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Myanmar

Obama hails Myanmar reforms in Thein Sein landmark visit

US President Barack Obama has hailed the reforms taken by Myanmar leader Thein Sein but urged him to end violence against Muslims. Sein is the country's first president to visit the White House in almost half a century.

Speaking from the US capital Monday Obama said he recognized Sein's work to guide Myanmar down "a long and sometimes difficult, but ultimately correct, path to follow."

Obama said that during his meeting with the Myanmar leader, Sein assured him he was going to continue political reforms in the country as well as release more political prisoners. The US president also said Sein had vowed to end ethnic conflicts by creating a more inclusive state.

"I also shared with President Sein our deep concern about communal violence that has been directed at Muslim communities inside Myanmar," Obama said. "The displacement of people, the violence directed towards them needs to stop.

Sein's visit to the White House was the first by a Myanmar head of state in 47 years.

'New national identity'

After the talks, Sein said he wanted a "more inclusive national identity" for Myanmar, but did not mention the struggles of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority.

"Myanmar people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths – Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others – must feel part of this new national identity," he said.

"We must end all forms of discrimination and ensure not only that intercommunal violence is brought to a halt, but that all perpetrators are brought to justice," he told Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Sein said his country faced a "daunting task" in carrying out reforms, adding that Myanmar will need the "assistance and understanding" of the international community, including from Washington, as it goes through the process.

Relations resumed

The US and Myanmar, also known as Burma, resumed relations in 2011 after five decades of military rule. Last November Obama made a landmark visit to the former pariah state and US officials say the reforms of Myanmar's now quasi-military government deserve support. Those changes include the freeing of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners, ending censorship and legalizing trade unions and protests.

But ethnic and sectarian violence in the country has worsened since the US began loosening sanctions. Unrest in the western Rakhine state has been particularly turbulent. At least 192 people died there last year in clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government.

Most of the victims in that violence, and the 140,00 people subsequently displaced, were Muslim.

Rights groups have alleged officials are turning a blind eye to the attacks on Rohingya Muslims, with Human Rights Watch accusing Myanmar of carrying out a "campaign of ethnic cleansing" against the minority.

dr/crh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)