Suu Kyi urges 'scepticism' on Myanmar reforms
Democracy icon tells World Economic Forum in Bangkok that her country needs to diffuse "time bomb" of high unemployment.
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2012 11:17
Suu Kyi is on her first trip outside Myanmar in decades, since being released from house arrest two years ago [Reuters]

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the international community to invest cautiously in her  country and give priority to creating jobs as much as making profits in order to defuse the "time bomb" of high unemployment.

The former political prisoner on Friday asked global leaders to exercise "healthy scepticism" as her country sheds half a century of military rule.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum on East Asia in the Thai capital Bangkok, she said: "These days I am coming across what I call reckless optimism". She drew applause by adding that a bit of "healthy scepticism is in order".

Suu Kyi, who is on her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years since she was released from house arrest two years ago, noted that the country was still in a very early phase of making democratic reforms.

"Our success, how irreversible the reform process is, will depend on national commitment. There has to be commitment on the part of all of those who wish to improve the state of our country," she said.

She listed the country's most essential needs as secondary education to foster political reforms and jobs to end high youth unemployment.

Millions of people in Myanmar have been forced abroad, many to Thailand, because of the chronic lack of employment.

Western sanctions have prevented foreign companies from investing in the country of 60 million people, but most of these have been suspended in recent months in response to reforms by the government that took office just over a year ago.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and new parliamentarian, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest under the former junta, said the government was pushing through democratic, social and economic reforms but did not seem interested in overhauling a judiciary that lacked independence.

Right investment

"This was really the first time we had seen Aung San Suu Kyi speaking directly to a large group of political and business leaders given that this is the first time she has been on foreign soil in 24 years," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reported from Bangkok on Friday.

Hay said that in her brief speech at the Forum, Suu Kyi used the opportunity to express the needs of her country.

"She said, of course Myanmar needs a lot of investment but it needs to be the right investment and people who are looking to put money into Myanmar need to think about the country's best interests," Hay said.

"She said what Myanmar does not need is more corruption. It does not need the rich getting richer; it does need things like solutions to the massive problem of youth unemployment, which she called a timebomb."

Suu Kyi had arrived in Thailand on Tuesday for the forum. On Thursday, she pressed her concerns about the millions of Myanmar migrants living in Thailand in a meeting with the country's Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung .

Myanmar's sputtering economy, in ruins after half a century of military rule and years of harsh Western sanctions, has forced millions of people to seek jobs abroad. Many crossed the borders illegally to work low-skilled jobs for long hours at pay below their Thai counterparts.

Still, many make more than they would back home, and despite the hardships are keen to be employed. Jobs are severely lacking in Myanmar, which lags far behind the rest of Asia.

Our correspondent said that after her speeches at the World Economic Forum, Suu Kyi would travel to a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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