U.S., Suu Kyi agree Burma reforms fragile

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks at a photo during the opening ceremony of a photo exhibition entitled "Aung San Suu Kyi, The Burmese Way to Democracy" at Institute of French in Yangon, Myanmar, May 17, 2012.
AP Photo/Khin Maung Win

(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the recent easing of U.S. sanctions and the need to protect against the country's backsliding on reforms, the State Department said Monday.

The U.S. had announced on Friday it was suspending a ban on American investment and the export of financial services to the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration's most significant step yet to reward Burma, also known as Myanmar, for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and they agreed Burma's important progress of the past several months remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions' authorities in place as an insurance policy, according to a department statement.

They talked about the need for specific steps to promote responsible, transparent investment and to empower reformers and target abusers, the statement said. They also discussed the urgent need for progress in resolving Burma's long-running ethnic conflicts, and ending human rights abuses in the ethnic areas.

The statement said Clinton and Suu Kyi "agreed to remain in close touch."

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate and Burma's most popular politician, has cautiously endorsed the European Union's suspension of economic sanctions and similar steps taken by the U.S. in recognition of the election of her and dozens of her party members to parliament in April.

Rights groups and some Burma activists, however, voiced concern over fierce violence in the country's northern Kachin State and continued detention of hundreds of political prisoners despite the releases of many others in recent months. Activists are worried it will be difficult to enforce sanctions again once they are suspended.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi will finally get a chance to deliver her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, nearly 21 years after winning the prestigious award.

Suu Kyi is set to deliver her speech in Oslo's City Hall on June 16, during a visit to Norway, Nobel Peace Institute spokeswoman Sigrid Langebrekke told The Associated Press on Monday.

After becoming leader of Burma's pro-democracy movement, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for 15 of the following 22 years of military rule. Her confinement kept her from attending the ceremony for the 1991 peace prize.

Norway's government said Suu Kyi also will meet Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg during her June 15-18 visit. She also is expected to visit Britain during her first travels abroad since 1988, when she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. She received her first passport in 24 years earlier this month.

Suu Kyi's eldest son, Alexander Aris, accepted the peace prize on her behalf during the 1991 ceremony.