Clinton tells Myanmar president she is ′encouraged′ by reforms | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.12.2011
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Clinton tells Myanmar president she is 'encouraged' by reforms

On an historic trip to the reclusive state to gauge progress in reforms, the US secretary of state has met Myanmar's President Thein Sein and other senior officials. She has also met Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.

Myanmar President Thein Sein shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Clinton's meeting with Thein Sein is a 'milestone'

Hillary Clinton is the first US secretary of state to travel to Myanmar since 1955. On Thursday, she met President Thein Sein and her Burmese counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in the new capital Naypyidaw for talks before lunching with the president and his wife Khin Khin Win.

"I am here today because President Obama and myself are encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people," she told Myanmar's reform-minded president as the two sat down in the ornate presidential palace.

The president responded by saying her visit was a "milestone" and would start "a historic and new chapter in relations."

The former general had ushered in a new spirit of reform earlier this year by inviting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the capital for talks last August. The series of reforms also includes the release of hundreds of political prisoners, and the opening of talks with certain ethnic minority groups.

Clinton and senior officials at the ministry of foreign affairs

Not all of Myanmar's lawmakers are in favor of reform

Clinton has made it clear she is in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to examine the reclusive country's commitment to democratic reforms and to support those who are interested in reform.

Boosting reform

After her hour-long closed-door meeting with Thein Sein, Clinton met certain parliamentary leaders who are reportedly more skeptical about the pace and scope of the reforms.

The US is currently examining the measures it could take to encourage the reform process, which include upgrading its representation in Myanmar to full ambassador status or speaking in favor of more international aid.

Conditions for such developments would include the further release of political prisoners as well as genuine efforts to resolve conflicts between the military and ethnic minorities. NGOs say that the conflicts in the border areas have triggered some of the worst human rights abuses in the country's history.

Although Clinton's visit indicates a change in US-Myanmar relations, observers do not expect any drastic changes to US policy in the short term and economic sanctions are not likely to be lifted any time soon. The US currently bans almost all trade with Myanmar. Critics of the policy say it has strangled Myanmar's economy and driven it closer to China.

Despite calls from China for the US to lift sanctions, which were repeated on Thursday, Clinton said ahead of her visit it was too early to discuss doing away with them, repeating the fact that many US lawmakers, who would have to approve such a decision, are deeply suspicious of the reclusive state and alarmed by continuous reports of human rights abuses.

Another US concern is that Myanmar might be trying to acquire North Korean missile technology. Clinton is expected to urge officials to break off what the US sees as illicit contacts with the isolated communist state. The US also wants Myanmar to sign additional protocols with the International Atomic Energy Agency so that the watchdog has more access to monitor and inspect the situation in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi has warned that the US has to remain watchful of the reform process

Face-to-face for the first time

After her meetings in Naypyidaw, Clinton met the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the former capital Yangon for a private dinner. It is the first time the two women will have met face-to-face. The two will meet again for a more formal meeting on Friday.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi said she supported Washington's attempts to estimate the state of reform in Myanmar but she recommended vigilance.

"If there are again arrests of those who are engaging in politics, then I think you would need to speak out loud and clear," she warned, saying that "nothing was guaranteed."

Author: Anne Thomas (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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