[QODLink]
Asia-Pacific
UK foreign secretary makes rare Myanmar visit
William Hague met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw.
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2012 01:37

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
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
Activists say 'Honor Diaries' documentary exploits gender-based violence to further an anti-Islamic agenda.
As Syria's civil war escalates along the Turkish border, many in Turkey are questioning the country's involvement.
Treatment for autism in the region has progressed, but lack of awareness and support services remains a challenge.
The past isn't far away for a people exiled from Crimea by Russia and the decades it took to get home.
join our mailing list