UK foreign secretary makes rare Myanmar visit

William Hague met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw.

    Thein Sein, Myanmar’s president greeted Hague in the capital Naypyitaw [AFP]

    Britain's foreign secretary has urged Myanmar to push its democratic reforms and release all political prisoners as he began a historic trip to the Southeast Asian country.

    William Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Myanmar since 1955.

    He follows in the footsteps of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who completed a similar trip in November 2011.

    Thein Sein, Myanmar’s president, greeted Hague on Thursday in the capital Naypyitaw, but neither talked to reporters before their meeting.

    Hague also met opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the main city of Yangon later in the day.

    In a statement issued before leaving London, Hague said his trip was intended to encourage the "government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support that process".

    While Hague's two-day visit signals a shift in relations, Britain did not promise any immediate change in European Union sanctions on arms sales, asset freezes and travel bans, or change a policy that discourages UK businesses from trade with Myanmar.

    Aid pledge

    Britain has recently pledged $289m over three years to fund health and education projects, becoming Myanmar's largest bilateral aid donor.

    The UK channels funds only through non-governmental groups.

    Western nations have offered cautious support for reforms that have led to the military junta that had ruled since 1962 taking a back seat and allowing a nominally civilian government to take power in March after winning elections that were boycotted by Suu Kyi's party.

    Since then, however, her National League for Democracy party has joined the political process and said it will take part in upcoming by-elections.

    The government has also released some political prisoners.

    Britain believes there are between 591 and 1,700 political prisoners held by Myanmar authorities, though poor record keeping and disputes over the status of captives mean an accurate figure is difficult to gauge.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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