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Clinton in Myanmar for historic visit

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 1st, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Hillary Clinton's high-level visit with members of Myanmar's government is the first high-level visit by a U.S. official in half a century. Myanmar President Thein Sein hailed a "new chapter in relations" with Washington. Both Clinton and Sein will not settle down for talks at the presidential palace in the capital, Naypyidaw.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "This visit is the first in five decades. Your visit is historic and will be a new chapter in relations. I appreciate the atmosphere you have created for friendly relations," Sein told Clinton.

"I am here today because President [Barack] Obama and myself are encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people," Clinton said.

Clinton had spoken earlier that she hoped that "flickers of progress" in Myanmar will "be ignited into a movement for change."

Clinton will raise concerns about Myanmar's suspected military links with North Korea during her talks.

Myanmar had been ruled by the military for decades until elections last year brought a nominally "civilian" government to power, one with close links to the army.

"This redistribution of power has seen many surprises come up and the pace of reform has been much quicker than many had anticipated," Al Jazeera's Aela Calla, reporting from Naypyidaw said.

"President Thein Sein and also the speaker of the lower house have shown great desire to open the country to the West. In particular, they will be looking for help to reform the economy. A third of Myanmar is still in poverty and foreign aid is low."

Clinton will travel to the former capital where she will meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy and a Nobel laureate who has spent much of the last two decades in prison.

Since the transition to "civilian" government, Myanmar's record on human and civil rights has been improving, the United Nations and human rights groups say. Myanmar has recently released more than 230 political prisoners, eased media censorship and sought guidance from international financial institutions to revive its economy.

Myanmar also amended its political parties law, removing a clause which bars anyone convicted of a crime from joining a party or taking part in an election. This would allow political prisoners, particularly Suu Kyi, to run for office.

Suu Kyi said she was ready to gamble that recent reforms represent a genuine transition to democracy after decades of false hopes. "We hope that they are meaningful," she said. "I think we have to be prepared to take risk. Nothing is guaranteed."

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