Obama to send Clinton to Myanmar
Move to deepen engagement comes as US leader sees "flickers of progress" in isolated nation "after years of darkness".
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2011 10:44
Obama sought Aung San Suu Kyi's opinion before deciding to forge a new relationship with Myanmar [Reuters]

Detecting "flickers of progress" in Myanmar, Barack Obama has announced that he will send Hillary Clinton to the Asian nation early next month, the first official in the secetary of state's position to undertake such a visit in more than 50 years.

A senior US administration official.said on Friday the US president spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's democracy leader and Nobel peace laureate, before taking the decision to send Clinton.

During their first ever conversation, which took place on Thursday evening while Obama was flying to Bali, Indonesia, on the Air Force One aircraft, they reviewed the progress made in Myanmar, or Burma, since her release from house arrest last year, the spokesman said.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years on house arrest by the nation's former military rulers but is now in talks with the new civilian government about reforming the country.

"After years of darkness, we've seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks," Obama said on Friday.

"We want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America."

Decision welcomed

Initial reaction to Obama's announcement from human rights and democracy movement officials was welcoming.

"The visit clearly demonstrates that United States is stepping up its engagement policy. It is better to see Myanmar's political situation on the ground rather than watch from a distance, We welcome the visit," Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, said.

Obama's comments came as Aung San Suu Kyi's party announced its decision to register legally so that it could take part in future elections.

The National League for Democracy refused to register last year because of a restriction that would have prevented her from running in the polls. The restriction was lifted this year.

Senior members of the NLD met at the party's headquarters on Friday and agreed that it was time to re-enter national politics.

A statement said the "NLD has unanimously decided to re-register as a political party ... and will run in the elections".

Signs of progress

Obama, who is in Bali to attend the summit of the regional grouping ASEAN, said Myanmar had shown signs of progress on reforms.

Myanmar, he said, could establish a new relationship with the US provided it moved forward with the reforms.

"There is more that needs to be done to pursue the future that the Burmese people deserve," he said, noting that the country would "continue to face sanctions and isolation" if steps were not taken towards more democracy and human rights.

In an address to the Australian parliament on Thursday, Obama said Myanmar had opened a dialogue on reform but had to do more to improve human rights.

Myanmar's new civilian rulers released about 230 political prisoners last month and a senior official from the country's
home ministry said on Wednesday that authorities were ready to proceed with further releases of activists.

Southeast Asian nations endorsed Myanmar on Thursday for the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, in the hope that the country can stick to reforms begun this year that could lead it out of half a century of isolation.

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