The Nation


US-Myanmar Ties

US President Barack Obama backs Myanmar reforms

Yangon - US President Barack Obama on Monday expressed his support for Myanmar's "first steps" towards democracy after meeting with the country's president on a historic trip to the former pariah state.

Obama met with reform-minded President Thein Sein for about an hour in Yangon, in the first visit to the country by a serving US president.

"I’ve shared with him the fact that I recognize this is just the first steps on what will be a long journey," Obama said.

"But we think a process of democratic and economic reform here in Myanmar that has been begun by the president is one that can lead toincredible development opportunities."

Thein Sein, a former army general who took up the post of president in March 2011, called on Obama to support "capacity building" within the government while promising to "move the country forward." Obama was earlier greeted outside Yangon International Airport by students waving Myanmar and US flags.

Thousands of people and riot police lined University Avenue from the airport to Yangon’s old Parliament building, where Obama met with President Thein Sein, for whom the visit is an acknowledgment of dramatic progress toward democracy in the past 18 months.

After holding talks with Thein Sein, Obama met with Shwe Mann, another key reformer who is speaker of the Lower House of Parliament.

Obama has been criticised by human rights activists for visiting Myanmar when they say government troops continue to commit abuses of ethnic minority groups such as the Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine state and Kachins in the northern part of the country.

"President Obama should make clear to the Burmese president that the attacks on the Rohingya need to stop if the Burma government wants to avoid renewed sanctions and the suspension of renewed military-to-military dialogues with the United States," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The group claims to have documented troop collusion in attacks on Rohingya communities in October. Since June, sectarian fighting in the Rakhine has left more than 100 dead and displaced some 110,000people.

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