Obama to make landmark visit to Myanmar this month

Thu Nov 8, 2012 4:32pm EST
 

By Matt Spetalnick and Aung Hla Tun

WASHINGTON/YANGON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will visit Myanmar this month and meet both its president and its iconic opposition leader, marking a new milestone in U.S. efforts to promote democratic reforms in the once-isolated Southeast Asian country.

Obama will travel to Myanmar as part of a November 17-20 tour of Southeast Asia that will include stops in Thailand and Cambodia, the White House said on Thursday as it confirmed details of his first international trip since voters gave him a second term in an election on Tuesday.

The visit to Myanmar, the first by a sitting U.S. president, will give Obama a chance to hold talks with President Thein Sein and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage the country's "ongoing democratic transition," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Obama's presence in Myanmar, also known as Burma, will be the strongest endorsement so far from the international community of the country's transformation under the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011 after decades of military rule.

The visit will allow Obama to highlight what many see as a first-term foreign policy accomplishment in helping to push Myanmar's generals onto the path of democratic change. Obama will be in Myanmar on November 19, according to a senior government source in Yangon.

He is going ahead with the trip despite recent sectarian violence in western Myanmar, which has drawn concern from the United States, the European Union and U.N. human rights investigators.

Some 89 people were killed in clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and minority Muslim Rohingyas, according to the latest official toll covering the last 10 days of October. Many thousands more have been displaced by the violence.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his election night victory rally in Chicago, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed