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Korean leaders pledge support for Myanmar reform, democracy

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Published : 2013-01-29 20:21
Updated : 2013-01-29 20:21

Korean leaders pledged support for Myanmar’s political reform and economic development during their meetings with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.

Suu Kyi arrived in Seoul late Monday for a five-day visit to attend the opening ceremony for the biennial Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province.

She met with President Lee Myung-bak, President-elect Park Geun-hye and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon to discuss the two countries’ cooperation on bilateral and Asian issues.

The president-elect praised political reform of the Southeast Asian country and Suu Kyi’s life-long efforts for democracy.

“I’d like to express my respect for your longtime devotion and sacrifice for democracy of your country,” Park was quoted as saying during the meeting at her office.
President-elect Park Geun-hye meets Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her Seoul office Tuesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate was quoted as responding that she hopes Myanmar’s fledgling reform will spread the democratic changes and will contribute to the peace and prosperity of its citizens and of people around the world.

They agreed to cooperate to make Asia and the world freer and happier, Park’s aides said.

Earlier in the day, President Lee hosted Suu Kyi and promised cooperation in development, education and personnel exchanges.

“Economic development and democratization should go hand in hand,” Lee was quoted as saying by his spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon. “Korea will try to provide young generations with more opportunities through economic cooperation with Myanmar.”

Suu Kyi voiced concerns about Myanmar’s jobless youth and their lack of vocational training, requesting Seoul to help more of her countrymen work in Korea, she added.

It was their second meeting. They met in May when Lee visited Naypyidaw. Myanmar President Thein Sein also came to Seoul in October.

At a separate meeting, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Suu Kyi agreed on the importance of education in promoting democracy and citizenship.

Park, a former human rights lawyer and activist, promised to help Myanmar growers of bananas, coffee and other crops through fair trade, while Suu Kyi expressed interest in urban farming, recycling and city planning and maintenance.

During her five-day stay, Suu Kyi will receive an undelivered 2004 human rights award in Gwangju, the stronghold for Korea’s 1980 democracy movement where deadly government crackdowns took the lives of hundreds of students and activists.

She plans to deliver speeches at Seoul National University and the opening ceremony for the Global Development Summit on the sidelines of the Special Olympics. She was also scheduled to meet with lawmakers, local government chiefs, civic group members and others, including National Assembly speaker Kang Chang-hee, Democratic United Party In Jae-keun, Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil, Korea Green Foundation president Choi Yul and actor Ahn Jae-wook.

The two female leaders’ meeting has gained particular traction for their ostensibly analogous yet starkly distinct life stories and political careers.

Park, 60, is the daughter of the late Park Chung-hee, a dictator who helped rebuild one of the world’s poorest countries from the ground up but was also criticized for his brutal oppression toward the student-led democracy campaigns. She is set to be sworn in as Korea’s first female president on Feb. 25.

Suu Kyi, 67, is the daughter of late Gen. Aung San, the former pariah country’s national independence hero. She founded the opposition National League for Democracy in 1988 and was released from house arrest in 2010, ushering in a watershed transition from decades of military rule.

Both lost their fathers to gunshots. Park Chung-hee was gunned down by his spy chief in 1979, whereas Gen. Aung San was killed by assassins in 1947.

Surmounting the trauma and political setbacks, they have emerged as their own country’s most influential figures, in part helped by their father’s legacies.

The series of high-profile meetings represent a thaw in the two countries’ ties that have undergone a slew of tense periods since their 1975 establishment.

The relationship soured after a 1983 bombing in Yangon by North Korean agents killed 17 Seoul officials accompanying then-President Chun Doo-hwan. Suspicion over Myanmar’s clandestine arms trade with Pyongyang has been another perennial thorn.

Since a nominally civilian government began sweeping democratic and economic reforms in 2011, the U.S., Europe and other countries have been reengaging with Myanmar and lifting the bulk of sanctions targeting its iron-fisted military junta.

With much of its territory remaining underdeveloped, the resources-rich country is now expected to offer ample opportunities to foreign manufacturers, builders, miners, utilities and telecom service providers. Korea is seeking to cash in on its experience of rapid industrialization and strength in construction and information technology.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)

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