Mon 4 Jun 2012
Filed under: ASEAN,Military,Regional
Myanmar is open to changing the constitution to reduce the military’s role at an appropriate time, according to Defense Minister Hla Min. Myanmar’s charter allocates 25 percent of parliamentary seats to soldiers, a requirement opposed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The country’s transition to democracy in recent months after about five decades of military rule has prompted the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions.
“If you have a fish in fresh water, you cannot put the fish into salt water,” Hla Min said yesterday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think-tank. “This 25 percent participation could be reduced in the future if and when it is appropriate.”
Myanmar is enhancing economic, military and political ties with Western nations after years of isolation that left its 64 million people among Asia’s poorest. Hla Min said the government has ended studies on a nuclear program, stopped pursuing ties with North Korea and taken steps to make peace with ethnic groups near its borders with China, India and Thailand.
The military backs President Thein Sein “100-percent” and has a history of following government orders, Hla Min said. Suu Kyi told reporters in Bangkok on June 1 that she remained unsure of the military’s backing for the reform-minded government. Changing the constitution requires support from more than 75 percent of lawmakers.
“We have to win over all the civilian MPs plus at least one soldier,” Suu Kyi said. “That one is going to be the toughest job of all.”
Hla Min blamed the media for exaggerating Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions, saying the previous administration only conducted studies and had “no practical ways and means to achieve” a nuclear program. He called a suggestion for the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify its nuclear activities “irrelevant” because there was nothing to inspect.
“In this new government we have already given up all activities on nuclear issues, and we have no further plans to extend on this,” he said.
Hla Min called on the U.S. to fully lift sanctions to improve the lives of Myanmar citizens. Speaking at the same conference earlier, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he would discuss a security relationship with Myanmar officials as engagement between the nations improves.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org