VIENTIANE // Australia and Britain pressed Myanmar on the plight of ethnic minorities yesterday and called for an end to sectarian violence in western Rakhine state.
Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, and William Hague, the British foreign secretary, raised the issue separately in meetings with the Myanmar president, Thein Sein, on the sidelines of a major Asia-Europe summit in Laos.
"At a time of so much progress on human rights we would also look for progress on the treatment of ethnic minorities," Ms Gillard told reporters in Vientiane afterwards.
It was the first meeting between leaders of Australia and Myanmar in nearly three decades.
Myanmar has signed a series of ceasefire deals with armed ethnic minority rebels but the efforts have been overshadowed by deadly clashes between Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state.
Mr Hague said that he had voiced "concern" at the violence in Rakhine in his talks with Thein Sein.
"The UK is urging all political parties in Burma to do what they can to end the violence and address the issue of Rohingya citizenship," he said.
At the same time he congratulated Thein Sein on his "vital political and economic reforms", and said he hoped the former general would be able to visit Britain early next year.
Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya are seen by the government and many in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted minorities.