Rights groups press Obama aides on Myanmar, Cambodia

Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:20pm EST
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By Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International human rights activists met senior White House officials on Tuesday to press President Barack Obama to take a tough line with leaders in Myanmar and Cambodia during his forthcoming Southeast Asia tour.

The talks, which included Samantha Power, a top Obama adviser and outspoken expert on genocide, touched on what the president will say during his landmark visit to Myanmar to prod the quasi-civilian government to do more to curb sectarian violence, activists said.

The visit, part of a November 17-20 swing through Southeast Asia, would be the first U.S. presidential trip to Myanmar, also known as Burma. Obama is going ahead with the visit despite rights groups' criticism it is premature because reforms have yet to be consolidated after decades of military rule.

A top official with a leading rights organization provided details of the meeting on condition of anonymity. Roughly half a dozen activists took part in the talks at the White House.

They left the meeting satisfied that Obama intends to push hard on human rights and political and economic reform in closed-door talks with reformist President Thein Sein and in his public remarks, including a speech.

But the activists were concerned Obama would not issue any public denunciation of rights abuses in Cambodia during his visit to Phnom Penh to attend an East Asia summit.

"The moral stain on this trip is Cambodia," an activist who attended the White House meeting told Reuters.

White House officials told the rights groups, however, that Obama would take a tough approach with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in private, the activist said.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the U.S. "Fiscal Cliff" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque