JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: The World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw was a major feather in the cap for president Thein Sein. But the pressures on him, not least from Aung San Suu Kyi, to start delivering on his promises of inclusive development.
Just before the event the president offered a little more bait, promising that all remaining political prisoners would soon be freed.
Mr President, thanks very much for agreeing to talk to us.
The world economic forum summit was a very big vote of confidence in Myanmar and in its future. Did it achieve all that you wanted?
THEIN SEIN, MYANMAR PRESIDENT (translation): You know, the World Economic Forum provides a platform for discussion and deliberation about both regional and global affairs, as well as challenges.
Firstly, the benefit that we gain from hosting the World Economic Forum is that we, Myanmar, gains a lot of experience in hosting such large scale international events in our country.
And, secondly, as you're aware, for the first 20 years we were isolated. But with the hosting of the World Economic Forum in Myanmar for the first time, it clearly demonstrates that we are re-entering into the mainstream of the international community. So this is one of the benefits that we are gaining by hosting the World Economic Forum.
So as you know, Myanmar is trying to attract and welcome foreign investment into the country. And because of the discussions that we had with businessmen from the world, we can promote and attract more investment and trade into our country. So this is another benefit that we gain from hosting the World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw.
JIM MIDDLETON: You told the conference that you would not waiver in advancing reform. But how are you going to guarantee that it is progress for all members of your community, all the citizens of your country; that the poor will benefit as well as the rich?
THEIN SEIN (translation): Our government has laid solid foundations by undertaking economic reforms in our country. As we are undergoing that reform process, it is timely that we are hosting this World Economic Forum.
The deliberations and discussions as well as recommendations will definitely contribute to the economic development of our country.
As Myanmar develops, there are some needs, such as financial capital, as well as advanced technology, and human resources development in the country. But we believe that the participants in the World Economic Forum will be able to fill the gaps that we need for that development. So I firmly believe that because of all of the participants in the forum here, we will be able to share the prosperity with all the people of Myanmar.
JIM MIDDLETON: But how long are the people of Myanmar going to have to wait? What do you say to those of your citizens, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who says that you have had three years of good intentions but now is the time for action; the time for talk is over, it's now time to see some of these benefits?.
THEIN SEIN (translation): Our government took off just two years back, so the majority of the people long for peace and stability and rule of law in the country. And secondly they wish to see strong, social and economic development. The people long for peace, so the government initiated to include all the stakeholders in the political process of our country.
You may well have noticed that Aung San Suu Kyi has become part of the political process and now she is already a parliamentarian. And she's already cooperating with the government for the interests of the nation and the people. And we have released prisoners that were detained in the past for various reasons. With the release of these prisoners, the former prisoners have formed political parties and they are already preparing to contest the forthcoming election in 2015. These are the benefits that the people of Myanmar have already enjoyed on the political front
You may know that our country had armed conflicts and insurgency problems for the past 60 years. When I took office, I have to say there were 11 armed groups in the country. Soon after we took office, we offered an olive branch and have started to negotiate. We've had peace talks with various armed groups and, as a result of our efforts, within two years we were able to have cease fires or peace agreements with these ethnic armed groups. We can say that we have ceased fighting in all corners of our country, and the people living in the border areas are enjoying unprecedented peace and stability and rule of law.
JIM MIDDLETON: You mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi's political role a little earlier. Will you encourage parliament to change the constitution so that she can run for the presidency in 2015, as she says she wants to?
THEIN SEIN (translation): With regards to the changes in our constitution, there are provisions within it that allows for those amendments to take place. For Aung San Suu Kyi to become president, there are things that need to happen. The first is she has to declare her intention to become president. The second is that parliament has to agree to it. The constitution in Myanmar was written with the approval of the people here, so both the parliament and the people have to agree to her becoming president. I don't actually have a say in this.
JIM MIDDLETON: So will you, however, use the authority of the presidency to try to encourage members of parliament to think seriously about changing the constitution so that the wish of many people in Myanmar, that Aung San Suu Kyi can run for presidency, will happen?
THEIN SEIN (translation): Let me just say there are three separate things. There are three main pillars in our country that is, the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch.
In accordance with our constitution, each branch cannot influence or overrule the other branches. So they are independent and separate from each other. The executive branch does not have any influence or say over the legislative body or the judicial branch, so I have no authority over the parliament at all.
JIM MIDDLETON: When he was in Myanmar last year, president Barack Obama said you cannot have reform without reconciliation. Why have you not stopped the religious violence which has broken out in some parts of your country over the last year in particular?
THEIN SEIN (translation): To answer your question, you may already know that our country, Myanmar, is a multiethnic, multi-religious country. Overall we have 100 different nationalities living here. National unity is of the utmost important to me. We are trying very hard to build a national unity here.
As I said earlier, we are trying to engage in peace talk and negotiate ceasefires with various ethic armed groups. We’ve also released many prisoners on the basis that it will help with national reconciliation.
Unfortunately there has been some violence within certain communities over the last year in Rakhine State. Many people have said this is religious violence, or to do with ethnicity. It wasn’t anything to do with race or religion or ethnic background; this was a repercussion of a criminal act that went out of control. There was some loss of life, people were injured, many houses were burned down. These are criminal acts.
Some elements both in Myanmar and outside the country have used this criminality to portray religious or ethnic persecution, and this has meant the international community has misunderstood the facts. We have been trying our best to help these communities coexist and live in harmony, as they have done previously.
So the criminality that started in Rakhine spread to other parts of the country. This was because of some elements who were working to incite violence on the basis of religion or ethnicity.
The government here is trying their utmost. Law and order has been restored, and there is no more violence in these areas as of now.
JIM MIDDLETON: But is part of the problem in bringing this violence under control that the authorities - the security authorities, the military and the police - do not feel that they have the same powers that they once did, that they had back in the times before you became president?
THEIN SEIN (translation): The primary source of rule of law is the police. But if the police cannot effectively safeguard the people of Myanmar, they can call for the military or defence forces to back them up.
This has been clearly proscribed in our constitution. So the step we took was totally in accordance with our constitution.
JIM MIDDLETON: You mentioned the trouble in Rakhine State. Many Rohingya, their families have lived here for generations, they are not new arrivals. Will you review the law which stops many of them becoming citizens? Will you review whether the 1982 law meets international norms?
THEIN SEIN (translation): To answer your question properly, I will have to explain some of Rakhine's State’s history. Rahkine was a kingdom ruled by a Rakhine king, and it was only the Rakhine people living in the state. But when Myanmar became a British colony, the British brought farmers from other parts of the world into Rakhine because of its climate and arable land. Most of those farmers did eventually leave after the work was done but some stayed. According to the British Gazette of 1948, they brought in around 50,000 farmers to be employed in Myanmar.
Now the population of Bengalis in Rakhine who have an Islamic faith have risen to between 400,000 to 500,000 people. Some of these are the descendents of the original farmers who were brought here by the British, so these people who have been born in Myanmar will be able to take up citizenship according to the Myanmar citizenship law of 1928. But there are other illegal immigrants who came later, and they will have to be dealt with under international law. In the case of these late comers, they may be taken care of by the UN or repatriated or sent to other countries.
But those who were born in Myanmar, they will be able to become citizens here.
JIM MIDDLETON: Our time is short, one final question, and I think it will be a quick one. A personal view, if I may ask you this: do you think that Aung San Suu Kyi deserves to be president, given the support that the National League for Democracy and she herself showed that they had in last year's by elections?
THEIN SEIN (translation): As I said earlier, the citizens of Myanmar have a say about whether I become president of Myanmar. I don't. It's up to them.
JIM MIDDLETON: Mr President, thank you very, very much. You have been very generous with your time. We appreciate it. Thank you.
THEIN SEIN: Thank you, thank you very much.