Secretary Clinton to Visit Burma Next Month

Posted November 19th, 2011 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma next month in a historic diplomatic initiative aimed at accelerating the country's fledgling reforms.

Clinton's visit to Burma will be the first visit to the isolated country by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 50 years. Mr. Obama made the announcement in Bali, Indonesia Friday, saying the U.S. is responding to “flickers of progress” from the Burmese government, which ended decades of military rule in March when it brought in a civilian parliament.

The president said Secretary Clinton will explore what the U.S. can do to support progress on political reform, human rights and national reconciliation. She will travel to Burma on December 1-2, making stops in Rangoon and Naypyidaw.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Burmese President Thein Sein in Bali Saturday and said he would visit the Southeast Asian country soon. Mr. Ban said he encouraged the Burmese leader to accelerate the rate of political reform.

Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy , decided Friday to re-register as a political party and take part in future elections.

The NLD was de-listed last year after it boycotted general elections because of a law banning those with a criminal record – including party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time – from participating in politics.

Burma repealed the ban last week. Aung San Suu Kyi has not confirmed whether she will run for office. The NLD won a landslide election in 1990, but Burma's military government refused to recognize the results and for two decades heavily suppressed the party's activities.

The European Union applauded the NLD's decision and said a review of its policy towards the reclusive Asian nation was underway.

Since bringing in the civilian parliament in March, Burma's former military leaders have gradually been loosening their once tight political grip on the country. The new government has opened dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, released more than 200 political prisoners and appears to be opening the political environment.

Though Mr. Obama commended Burma for taking these steps, he cautioned that it will need to go further with reforms to have a new relationship with the U.S.

Mr. Obama spoke by phone Aung San Suu Kyi earlier Friday, during which she confirmed her support of American engagement to “move the process forward.”