US President Barack Obama has told Myanmar’s rulers its celebrated democratic reforms are backsliding after the country’s transition from army-led isolation.
Obama will meet his Myanmar counterpart Thein Sein – a former general turned reformer – on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in the capital of Naypyidaw, as well as other Southeast Asian leaders.
He set the tone for his meeting with hard-hitting comments on the pace of reforms in an interview with news website The Irrawaddy published just before he arrived on Wednesday night.
“Progress has not come as fast as many had hoped when the transition began four years ago. In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward,” he said.
“In addition to restrictions on freedom of the press, we continue to see violations of basic human rights and abuses in the country’s ethnic areas, including reports of extrajudicial killings, rape and forced labour.”
Obama will on Friday offer a show of support to the country’s famed democracy heroine and fellow Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, travelling to meet her in the commercial hub of Yangon.
Suu Kyi had preceded Obama’s trip with her own warning against “over-optimism” about democracy in Myanmar, formally known as Burma, as the nation heads for crucial general elections next year.
The country’s reform process began in 2011 when Thein Sein took the helm of a quasi-civilian government.
Myanmar saw the removal of most Western sanctions as it released the majority of political prisoners and loosened draconian press censorship, allowing a flurry of investor interest in the country seen as an exciting virgin market.
Thein Sein hosted the heads of the other nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc for an annual summit on Wednesday.
ASEAN was then joined by Obama and leaders from Japan, China, India, Australia, China, Russia, South Korea and New Zealand for the East Asia summit on Thursday.
Obama will travel to Australia on Friday for the G20 summit.