WASHINGTON - Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday counselled US caution in freezing sanctions, warning that her country could slide back after a year of dramatic reforms. Suu Kyi, who was sworn in May 2 as a member of parliament after spending most of the past two decades under house arrest, spoke at the launch of a new "Freedom Collection" project by former US president George W. Bush. "I am not against the suspension of sanctions as long as the people of the United States feel that this is the right thing to do at the moment. I do advocate caution, though," Suu Kyi told the Washington event via Skype.
"I sometimes feel that people are too optimistic about the scene in Burma," Suu Kyi said, referring to Myanmar by its older name. "You have to remember that the democratization process is not irreversible."
Repeating one of her frequent themes, Suu Kyi said that reforms would only be considered irreversible once the military - long Myanmar's most powerful institution - firmly committed to reforms.
Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, enjoys wide respect across the political spectrum in Washington and her views are considered critical to any US decision to lift decades worth of sanctions on Myanmar.
Suu Kyi referred to a call Monday by John McCain, a leading senator of Bush's Republican Party, for a freeze on most sanctions on Myanmar but for a limited time - similar to a recent move by the European Union.
"That is a way of sending a strong message that we will try to help the process of democratization but if this is not maintained, then we will have to think of other ways of making sure that the aspirations of the people of Burma for democracy is respected," Suu Kyi said.
President Barack Obama's Democratic administration has championed dialogue with Myanmar since taking over from Bush but has been cautious about a full lifting of sanctions, saying it needs to preserve leverage to encourage change .
Since taking office a year ago, President Thein Sein has surprised even many cynics by opening talks with Suu Kyi and ethnic rebels, allowing by-elections swept by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and freeing political prisoners.
But Suu Kyi said that Myanmar has not freed 271 political prisoners who figured on a list handed by her party to the home ministry.
"There should be no political prisoners in Burma if we are really heading for democratization," she said.