x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Myanmar president's US visit will be a milestone

The White House has said it would welcome Myanmar's leader on his landmark visit on Monday in a symbolic reward by president Barack Obama to encourage reforms in the former pariah state.

WASHINGTON // The White House has said it would welcome Myanmar's leader on his landmark visit on Monday in a symbolic reward by president Barack Obama to encourage reforms in the former pariah state.

Thein Sein, a former general who surprised many critics by ushering in democratic changes, will be the first president of the country formerly known as Burma to visit Washington since 1966.

The White House said Mr Obama would ask Thein Sein how the United States could help in the "many remaining challenges to efforts to develop democracy, address communal and ethnic tensions and bring economic opportunity".

"President Thein Sein's visit underscores president Obama's commitment to supporting and assisting those governments that make the important decision to embrace reform," the White House said on Wednesday.

The trip follows Mr Obama's visit to Myanmar in November.

His administration has suspended most sanctions on Myanmar as part of a drive it launched in 2009 to provide incentives for reforms.

The White House referred to Thein Sein as the president of Myanmar - not Burma, which is the usual US government usage.

The country's leaders have long advocated the use of Myanmar instead of the old colonial name.

The US still considers Burma to be the name of the country but has begun the "limited use" of Myanmar, said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council.

Since Thein Sein took charge, Myanmar has released hundreds of political prisoners, eased censorship.

But a recent Human Rights Watch report accused the country of a "campaign of ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim people who are not even considered citizens of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Obama's administration officials argue that Thein Sein was active in trying to end the communal violence, which predated his tenure.