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Blogger for influential US think-tank lays out fears over Myanmar elections

US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Mr Tom Malinowski, fourth from left, talks with local human rights activists in Yangon about democratic reforms on January 13, 2015 during his recent visit to Myanmar. Photo: U.S. Embassy Rangoon

January 22, 2015

A commentator with America’s influential Council on Foreign Relations has written a column that expresses concern over opinion that the coming national elections could be “waylaid.”

Mr Joshua Kurlantzick, the CFR’s Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia wrote in a January 20 commentary entitled, “The US-Burma Human Rights Dialogue: Frank Criticism but No Action,” that it was refreshing to see a US official “be quite blunt” about Myanmar’s problems.

The assessment comes after US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Mr Tom Malinowski joined with US Ambassador to Myanmar Mr Derek Mitchell and a group of other US officials from State, Defense and USAID for the second U.S.-Burma Human Rights Dialogue in Myanmar.

Mr Kurlantzick suggests there is a need for tougher talk.

“The dialogue came at a time when Myanmar’s rights record is backsliding, more than one-hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims remain internally displaced in Myanmar, and there are concerns, both within Myanmar and among outside countries, that this year’s critical national elections will be waylaid, not allowing the vote to go on freely and fairly,” writes Mr Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia with the CFR. Mr Kurlantzick was writing in his personal capacity, not on behalf of the CFR.

As Mr Kurlantzick notes, US officials up until recently have tended to avoid significant public criticism of Myanmar’s faltering reforms. But Assistant Secretary Malinowski was open in his government’s concern over whether the reform process is continuing, with fears about tensions and problems that might arise in this crucial election year.

As was widely reported, Mr Malinowski spoke of his concern that Myanmar’s government was “playing with fire” by not taking a tough approach toward people using religion to divide society.

Mr Kurlantzick said Washington should not only offer criticism in public and private but should also use its “significant leverage in Myanmar,” particularly given the desire by the Myanmar armed forces for a much closer relationship.

Mr Kurlantzick said Washington should “freeze” certain aspects of its engagement “to signal to the still-powerful Myanmar armed forces that they need to allow the election to go forward freely, even if the opposition National League for Democracy party is to triumph.

He added the freeze on military-to-military relations also should be utilised to apply more pressure on Nay Pyi Taw to investigate links he alleges may exist between uniformed military and Buddhist paramilitary groups.”

The Council on Foreign Relations' "think tank” includes more than seventy fellows, its board of directors include Former US Secretary of State Retired General Colin Powell.

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