Obama to make landmark visit to Myanmar this month

Fri Nov 9, 2012 6:38am EST
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By Aung Hla Tun and Matt Spetalnick

YANGON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will become the first U.S. leader to visit Myanmar this month, the strongest international endorsement of the fragile democratic transition in the Southeast Asian country after half a century of military rule.

Obama will travel to Myanmar during a November 17-20 tour of Southeast Asia that will also take in Thailand and Cambodia, the White House said on Thursday, confirming his first international trip since he won a second term in Tuesday's election.

He is going ahead with the trip despite recent sectarian violence in western Myanmar that has drawn concern from the United States and European Union.

U.N. human rights investigators have criticized the quasi-civilian government's handling of the strife between Buddhists and minority Muslims, and some Myanmar exiles see Obama's trip as premature before political reforms have been consolidated.

The visit to Myanmar, the first by a sitting U.S. president, will give Obama a chance to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage the "ongoing democratic transition", White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Suu Kyi spent years in detention under the military as the figurehead of the movement for democracy. She was elected to parliament in April, when her National League for Democracy (NLD) ran in by-elections after boycotting a 2010 poll.

Obama will be in Myanmar on November 19, according to a senior government source in Yangon, where people expressed delight.

"I believe it is a clear sign of improved ties between the two countries and I am very glad that our NLD party played an important role in working for the emergence of this situation," said NLD executive committee member Han Tha Myint.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 19, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque