Yangon: Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed on Friday US engagement with Myanmar saying she hoped it would set her long-isolated country on the road to democracy.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a final meeting with Suu Kyi as she wrapped up a landmark visit to Myanmar which saw the new civilian government pledge to forge ahead with political reforms and re-engage with the world community.
Hillary and Suu Kyi - the Nobel laureate who has come to symbolize the pro-democracy aspirations of Myanmar`s people - held a private dinner on Thursday and met again on Friday at Suu Kyi`s lakeside home, effectively her prison until she was released last November after years in detention.
"We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us and it is through engagement that we hope to promote a process of democratization," said Suu Kyi, adding that Hillary’s visit was a "historical moment" for both countries.
The two women spoke together for about an hour and a half. They later stood on a verandah, holding hands as they spoke to reporters.
"If we go forward together I`m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy. We are not on that road yet but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends," Suu Kyi said.
Hillary’s trip follows a decision by US President Barack Obama last month to open the door to expanded ties, saying he saw "flickers of progress" in a country until recently seen as a reclusive military dictatorship firmly aligned with China.
Suu Kyi said she welcomed more support for Myanmar including World Bank and International Monetary Fund assessment missions which she said would help the country figure out how to get its economy on track.
She also called on the military-backed government to do more to ensure the rule of law, which she said would prevent the arrest of more political prisoners.
"We need all those who are still in prison to be released and we need to ensure that no more are arrested," she said.
She said she would work with the new government, the opposition and friendly countries including the United States and China for a better future for her country.
Hillary’s trip - the first by a senior US official in more than 50 years - represents an opportunity for both Myanmar and the United States, and both appear eager to press ahead with rapprochement.
Myanmar`s new leadership hopes the United States will eventually see its way clear to ease or remove sanctions, a step which could open the resource-rich but desperately poor country to more foreign trade and investment and help it catch up to booming neighbors such as Thailand and India.
For Washington, improved ties with Myanmar could underscore Obama`s determination to up US engagement in Asia and balance China`s fast-growing economic, military and political influence.
Hillary praised Suu Kyi`s "steadfast and clear" leadership adding that she say "some ground for encouragement" after her talks with government leaders in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Thursday.
"You have been an inspiration," Hillary told Suu Kyi.
"But I know that you feel you are standing for all the people of your country who deserve the same rights and freedom as people everywhere."
"We want to see this country take its rightful place in the world," Hillary said.
Hillary was later due to meet representatives of ethnic minority groups, some of which remained locked in bloody conflict with the army, as well as fledgling civil society organizations.
She will aim to reassure them that the US outreach to Myanmar`s government does not mean it will ease pressure on human rights, political freedoms and rule of law in a country long a hallmark for authoritarian military rule.
After her talks with President Thein Sein on Thursday, Hillary and announced a package of modest steps to improve ties, including US support for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank assessment missions and expanded UN aid programs for the country`s struggling economy.
She also said the United States would consider reinstating a full ambassador in Myanmar and could eventually ease crippling sanctions, but underscored that these future steps would depend on further measurable progress in Myanmar`s reform drive.
US officials said Hillary’s visit was aimed at bolstering reformers in the government, but said it was clear that some powerful figures remained wary of reforms - throwing a question mark over whether the changes can be sustained.
Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy will contest coming by-elections for parliament - seen as the next key test of the government`s reform program - and Suu Kyi herself has said she will stand for election, another sign that she believes the changes under way are real.
Suu Kyi thanked Obama and praised the "careful and calibrated" way in which the United States was approaching Myanmar`s leaders.
"This will be the beginning of a new future for all of us provided we can maintain it and we hope to be able to do so," she said.
Suu Kyi and Hillary embraced and were visibly moved by their encounter.