Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia should continue supporting Myanmar in transitioning to democracy despite ethnic conflicts dogging the process.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is confident Myanmar (Burma) is making progress on its path to democracy, even if its economic woes and ethnic conflicts remain unresolved.
Ms Bishop held high-level meetings on Thursday with Myanmar’s political leadership in the capital Naypyidaw, including with President Thein Sein and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
The leading Burmese opposition figure has urged foreign nations to maintain pressure on Myanmar’s leaders, warning the sweeping changes promised by the former military junta have been slow to emerge.
Sectarian violence in the country’s western Rakhine state has drawn international condemnation and pessimism about Myanmar’s prospects of delivering on its promised reforms.
Ms Bishop said she did not underestimate the size of the task facing Southeast Asia’s poorest country as it tried to evolve into a healthy democracy after five decades of authoritarian rule.
“I understand that this will be a slow process but I believe that progress is under way, and that’s what Australia must continue to support and encourage,” she told AAP by phone from Naypyidaw.
“We want to see it succeed and we want to support Myanmar in its reforms.”
Ms Bishop raised Australia’s concerns about human rights, economic disadvantage and ethnic conflicts in “every meeting”, including with the former military general-turned-civilian ruler Thein Sein.
She also heard firsthand from members of the persecuted Rohingya community, who have been the victims of a violent anti-Muslim purge in Rakhine state.
Human rights featured heavily in her conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi – her third meeting with the democracy leader – and other political parties running for election in 2015.
Ms Bishop acknowledged she had encountered differing views about the rate of real change in Myanmar.
“Of course, it depends to whom you speak as to their view of the rate of political reform,” she said.
The foreign minister will spend her last day in Myanmar on Friday focusing on women’s empowerment – a top priority of the government’s revamped aid program – and education initiatives.