Myanmar president to make landmark US visit: state TV
Myanmar President Thein Sein delivers a speech at the United Nations during the Economic and Social Commision for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) 69th Session of the Commission in Bangkok on April 29, 2013. Myanmar's president will soon make the first state visit to the United States by a leader of the former pariah nation in almost half a century, state television announced Monday.
It did not say exactly when former general Thein Sein -- whose quasi-civilian government has won international plaudits for its political reforms since taking power two years ago -- would travel to Washington.
Myanmar government officials told AFP they were aware of the planned visit but did not know the precise dates.
The trip, which was first reported by AFP earlier this month, will be the first to Washington by a head of the country since military leader Ne Win was invited in 1966 by president Lyndon Johnson.
Thein Sein in September flew to New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly, following a series of visits to Myanmar by US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The former junta premier surprised even many skeptics by launching a raft of reforms after taking office in 2011 in the wake of controversial elections, freeing hundreds of political prisoners and relaxing censorship.
He has allowed opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi to take a seat in parliament, a dramatic turnaround for the Nobel Peace laureate, who spent most of the previous two decades under house arrest.
In response, the West has begun to roll back most sanctions imposed against the former junta, which ruled for almost half a century.
Global corporate giants from Coca-Cola to General Electric have already begun to vie for a share of an expected economic boom in the long-isolated nation.
Obama paid his own visit to Myanmar in November, when he praised the nation for its transition but called for progress on reforms, particularly in the treatment of ethnic minorities.
Speaking then in Yangon, Obama hailed "a dramatic transition" under way in Myanmar, where he said "a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip".
Thein Sein's own visit to Washington is expected to be controversial due to a surge in violence against the Rohingya, a Muslim people who are not considered citizens by Myanmar.
A recent Human Rights Watch study accused the country of a "campaign of ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya.
The New York-based watchdog said many Rohingya were among 211 people killed in two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence since June 2012 in the western state of Rakhine, where tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced.
Thein Sein earlier this month pledged to uphold the "fundamental rights" of Muslims in Rakhine.
The anti-Muslim unrest has spread across the country this year. Buddhist monks have been linked to some incidents, while security forces have been accused of standing by while mosques and homes were attacked.
Myanmar on Sunday began moving homeless Rohingya living in flimsy tents into emergency shelters as a cyclone threatened to bring heavy rains and strong winds to Rakhine, officials said.
About 140,000 internally displaced persons are seen as particularly vulnerable to cyclone Mahasen, which was gathering strength in the Bay of Bengal and set to make landfall on Thursday near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
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