As co-chair of the House Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, Crowley also toured India to explore opportunities to expand business, trade, defense and cultural relationships between the two countries.
"I am visiting [Burma] to assess the situation on the ground, as well as to encourage the government to continue on the path of reform," he said before his visit on January 12 and 13. "While the government has taken some steps in the direction of reform, there is more that needs to be done.”
In Burma, Crowley met with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic minority members, as well as government officials.
“During my meetings with government leaders, I pressed for the release of all prisoners of conscience and an end to all human rights abuses, especially against ethnic minorities,” he said. Exhibiting a hopeful stance, he added, “I did detect what could be seen as a level of sincerity from certain members of the government in addressing at least some of these issues, but what is most important is whether that plays out in reality or not. We are looking for continuing action.”
Crowley welcomed Secretary Clinton’s recent decision to initiate the process of appointing an ambassador to Burma as a measured response to encourage ongoing reform.
In Yangon, Crowley was the first member of Congress to hear directly the concerns of families of political prisoners, estimated at over 1,000, currently held in Burmese detention centers.
Attendees included political prisoners from the National League for Democracy, the 88 Generation Students Group, the media, and ethnic minority groups. The 88 Generation Students Group was at the forefront of a failed 1988 uprising in which thousands died.
On January 13, the army-supported government announced a major prisoner amnesty, releasing 651 prominent dissidents, journalists, ethnic minorities and a former premier.
Crowley labeled the release “a step forward.”
“However, there was a very clear message from the families that every political prisoner should be unconditionally released, but skepticism as to whether the government would do this or not, and even those whose family members were released from prison the next day, were not expecting that to happen,” Crowley said.
Of the major opposition leader Kyi, Crowley said, “She has been a determined advocate for reconciliation and we had a good discussion on how we can help to encourage further reform.”
On Wednesday, Kyi registered to run for a seat in parliament in the April 1 by-elections.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party has already been given approval to return to the political arena, another sign of change in the country.
Moe Chan, executive director of the Committee for International Movement of Burma Point, whose membership comes from the 10,000-member Burmese community living in Woodside, Sunnyside, Elmhurst and East Elmhurst, says the situation in Burma today is unpredictable.
“The current political reform taking place can't be understood as reconciliation dialogue," he said. “However, it can lead to it.
“There’s still has a long way to go,” he added. “The only way to peace is genuine dialogue between the government, including its military, the democratic forces, and the ethnic groups.”
Chan said that the United States needs to show its support for any positive reform. However, he notes, reform in Burma must be irreversible with major reconciliation efforts with at least four major ethnic groups, whose government-directed oppression Chan says has reached the level of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Positive signs to look for, according to Chan, are complete release of political prisoners, unfettered campaigning opportunities, and allowing international monitors inside the country to insure free and fair elections.