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Article hints at rift between top figures in Myanmar


BANGKOK >> A state-run newspaper in Myanmar published an analysis Tuesday expressing concerns that the “hard-won trust” between President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and opposition leader, could “vanish.”

The article in The New Light of Myanmar described “anxieties” in the wake of Suu Kyi’s recent trip to Thailand and appeared to criticize her for warning investors at a high-level business meeting in Bangkok to be cautious about investing in Myanmar, which she said was not yet a “genuinely democratic society.” The statements undercut the government’s message that the country, one of the poorest in Asia, was ripe for investment.

The article appeared to be the latest suggestion that the trip had strained the relationship between Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, now a Parliament member. Cooperation between the two is considered essential to continuing the country’s drive toward democracy.

The New Light of Myanmar was the government’s main mouthpiece under military rule, but with the country’s media landscape evolving, it is unclear how much the paper reflects the thinking of Thein Sein’s government and whether the article can be taken as an official rebuke or warning.

Still, the newspaper, which is used to publish what are essentially government press releases, has not allowed analyses that cut against government policy.

The article said the future of the country “depends completely on cooperation of the two leaders,” echoing a sentiment by many in Myanmar that the country’s push for democratic changes is personality driven and therefore vulnerable.

“I am also concerned that this golden opportunity will be lost,” wrote the author, who signed his name as Maung Aye Chan and described himself as a Burmese expatriate living in the United States. It is unclear if that is the author’s real name.

In a possible suggestion that whatever rift exists between the leaders is not too wide, the article also called Suu Kyi a “leader,” in sharp contrast to the disparaging words that the official media employed to describe her during the country’s years under military rule.

The first indication of friction came when the president canceled his own trip to Thailand after Suu Kyi announced her travel plans. The president’s aides initially said that he was too busy to make the visit, but an adviser later criticized Suu Kyi for lacking “transparency.”

And on Tuesday, U Tin Maung Thann, who is helping the government negotiate peace agreements with ethnic groups and who has met Thein Sein several times recently, said the president was disappointed in Suu Kyi because her team did not share details of her visit with him.

“To some extent, yes, he was upset,” said Tin Maung Thann. “But he is smart enough not to escalate the tensions.”

Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand, a six-day trip that ended Sunday, was her first journey abroad in 24 years. Her last-minute request to visit the Thai-Myanmar border last week took the Myanmar and Thai governments by surprise. Thein Sein’s government is negotiating peace agreements with a number of ethnic groups in the area who have fought Myanmar’s government on and off for decades.

Tin Maung Thann said the main cause of tension between Suu Kyi and the president had been “communications.”

“If she had a plan, he wanted to know about it,” he said.

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