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Myanmar's days of isolation over, but concerns remain
It wasn't so long ago that Myanmar, or Burma as it was then more commonly called, was largely shut off from the world, a pariah state.


But in 2011 president Thein Sein embarked on a series of economic and political reforms under a new quasi-civilian administration.

Now Aung San Suu Kyi has left no doubt about her intentions, calling on the government to change the constitution so she can run for the presidency.

Myanmar's days of isolation may be over, but many concerns remain, especially religious violence in many parts of the country.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: It wasn't so long ago that Myanmar, or Burma as it was then more commonly called, was largely shut off from the world, a pariah state.

But in 2011 president Thein Sein embarked on a series of economic and political reforms under a new quasi-civilian administration. Now Aung San Suu Kyi has left no doubt about her intentions, calling on the government to change the constitution so she can run for the presidency.

Myanmar’s days of isolation may be over, but many concerns remain, especially religious violence in many parts of the country.

Auskar Surbakti reports.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI, REPORTER: Aung San Suu Kyi was always going to be a highlight of the World Economic Forum in Myanmar. But even this captive audience wasn't prepared for her surprise announcement.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, MYANMAR: I want to run for president, and I am quite frank about it. There are those who say that I shouldn't say I would like to be president. But then if I pretended I didn't want to be president, I wouldn't be honest. And I would rather be honest with my people than otherwise.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: Ms Suu Kyi's presidential bid would have been unthinkable just two years ago, before the Myanmar government embarked on a series of democratic re forms.

The country's transition from dictatorship to democracy has managed to win over some of its harshest critics.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: President Sein shared with me the manner in which he intends to move forward on releasing more political prisoners, making sure that they, the government of Myanmar, institutionalises some of the political reforms that have already taken place.

(Footage of 2010 election plays)

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: Myanmar's reform process began in 2010, after it held its first general election in 20 years.

It was boycotted by the plain opposition group, the National League for Democracy, which won a landslide victory in the previous election in 1990, but was not allowed to govern.

(Footage of Aung San Suu Kyi behind her house gates plays)

The NLD's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, served 15 years under house arrest until her release in 2010, which to many signalled the true beginning of the reform process.

(Footage of prisoners being released plays)

Long standing sanctions against Myanmar were lifted after the government began releasing political prisoners in 2011 and countries began normalising relations with the former pariah state.

DR JOHN BLAXLAND, SENIOR FELLOW, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: What we have seen in the last couple of years is truly amazing. We've seen Aung San Suu Kyi rehabilitated and actually now a member of parliament. We've seen the government of Thein Sein institute a former parliamentary democracy that, in regional South East Asian standard,s is actually remarkably robust.

And we are seeing further economic re forms, we are seeing further legislative reforms, being implemented in a way that is literally breathtaking.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: It's against this backdrop that Myanmar plays host to this year's World Economic Forum on East Asia.

(Excerpt from promotional video for the World Economic Forum plays)

NARRATOR: The World Economic Forum will bring together the brightest minds, the most forward thinking leaders from all walks of life, making a positive contribution to positive transformation in Myanmar.

(Excerpt ends)

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: Playing host for the forum is another show of faith in Myanmar's reform efforts. But some human rights campaigners say the praise has been overenthusiastic.

ZETTY BRAKE, BURMA CAMPAIGN AUSTRALIA: In the past two years, over nearly 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes because of conflict, violence and human rights abuses, largely perpetrated by the military forces in Burma. I don't think a country that cannot protect its own people and actually targets its own people in military attacks deserves to be hosting such events.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: While some analysts believe Myanmar's reforms appear to be genuine, they acknowledge the country still has a long way to go.

DR JOHN BLAXLAND: There are still definite concerns. The levels of corruption in the country are still very, very high. There is scope for considerable further reform.
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