Hillary Clinton Begins Myanmar visit

Nov 30, 2011, 09:46 by R.E. Christian

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Myanmar Wednesday to express support for reforms in the nation once ruled by the military, officials said.

Clinton, whose trip was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent Asia tour, is the first U.S. official of her rank to visit the isolated South Asian country in more than five decades. The visit comes as Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has begun to make progress toward democratic reforms under the new civilian government of President Thein Sein after decades of brutal military rule.

"I am obviously looking to determine for myself and on behalf of our government what is the intention of the current government with respect to continuing reforms both political and economic," Clinton told reporters before meeting with Myanmar officials, The Washington Post reported. "We and many other nations are quite hopeful that these flickers of progress � will be ignited into a movement for change."

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post: "We are actually deeply realistic for what can be expected. There have been a number of failed attempts at reform, over decades. We are mindful of the risks, and we will be very careful as we go forward."

The State Department delegation said the Myanmar government has accommodated Clinton's visit in every respect with no restrictions, The New York Times reported.

The State Department said Clinton's three-day visit "will register support for reforms that we have witnessed in recent months and discuss further reforms in key areas, as well as steps the U.S. can take to reinforce progress."

Clinton "will consult with a broad and diverse group of civil society and ethnic minority leaders to gain their perspectives on developments in the country," the department said.

In announcing Clinton's visit, Obama said the United States is considering a new relationship that would depend on "the Burmese government taking more concrete action."

Thein Sein, a former general, became president after last year's elections, the first in two decades.

Immediately after the elections, the new government freed opposition and pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kim, who had been held under house arrest for years.

The new government also changed some laws to allow Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party to field candidates. Public protest, not encouraged during the junta rule, resulted in the new government suspending a hydroelectric dam project involving aid from China, a close ally of Myanmar.

In another major reform, the government has freed dozens of political prisoners. The government also has passed reforms for protection of basic human rights.

Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy Magazine, was quoted by CNN as saying Clinton's visit will boost the government's reform process and legitimacy.

Clinton's Myanmar trip comes as U.S. foreign policy pivots to the Asia-Pacific region, with Washington determined to play its leadership role. Some experts have expressed doubts as to whether the new leadership in Myanmar will remain committed to democratic reforms.

Source: UPI