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Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday urged Burma’s government to carry out urgent judicial reform to cement recent political progress and foster clean investment in the country.
Addressing world business leaders in Bangkok in her first international engagement after more than two decades of isolation, Suu Kyi said Burma needed the “rule of law” more than legal safeguards for foreign investors.
“Investors in Burma, please be warned — even the best investment law would be of no use whatsoever if there is no court clean enough and independent enough to be able to administer these laws justly,” she said.
“Good laws already exist in Burma but we do not have a clean and independent judicial system. Unless we have such a system it is no use having the best laws in the world.”
Companies are hungrily eyeing resource-rich Burma since political reforms prompted some international sanctions to be eased.
But in her 15 minute address to the World Economic Forum on East Asia, Suu Kyi seized the chance to call for an ethical approach from the assembled foreign business chiefs and Asian political leaders.
Calling for a “healthy scepticism” towards Burma’s creeping reform under the quasi-civilian government, she decried a lack of change to the country’s broken legal system and asked delegates to think “deeply” about what is good for Burma.
“For a moment please don’t think too much of the benefit investment will bring to investors.
“We don’t want investment to mean further corruption… and greater inequality.”
Instead she said it was integral to empower civic society and create jobs to defuse a “time bomb” of high youth unemployment.
Suu Kyi has stolen the show at the Bangkok forum, drawing crowds of well-wishers and photographers, during her first trip abroad in 24 years.
Having spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, she has taken an increasingly global role as Burma sheds its pariah status, meeting top world dignitaries in Rangoon and encouraging easing of Western economic sanctions.
Analysts say that foreign travel will give Suu Kyi greater access to a global community eager to see her in person and allow her to meet ordinary people as well as world leaders.
Reflecting on her trip after decades inside Burma, the pro-democracy leader said as she flew into Bangkok she was struck by the city’s illuminated nightscape.
“I had just left a Burma that was suffering electricity cuts… I thought thirty years ago the scene that met my eyes landing in Bangkok, would not have been very different from landing in Yangon [Rangoon].”
After Friday’s speech she attended a forum session on Asian women.
Since arriving in neighbouring Thailand on Tuesday, the pro-democracy icon has followed a hectic schedule, shuttling between forum meetings and trips to visit Burmese migrants.
Europe is next on the horizon, where Suu Kyi will address an International Labour Organization conference in Geneva and give a speech in Oslo to finally accept the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 1991.
She also intends to travel to Britain, where she lived for years with her family, and will address parliament in London.