President Barack Obama plans to visit Burma on 19 November and meet both his counterpart, Thein Sein, and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a senior government source in the country has said.

Obama’s visit would be further strong endorsement by the international community of Burma’s transformation under the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011 to end half a century of military rule. Obama would be the first serving US president to visit Burma.

“So far as I understand, President Obama is coming to Myanmar on 19 November and he will meet both President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, of course on separate occasions,” the government official said on Thursday, using honorifics and asking not to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Neither the government nor the US embassy would confirm the date.

The US suspended sanctions on Burma this year in recognition of the political and economic changes under way, and many US companies are looking at starting operations in the country, which has abundant resources and low-cost labour.

In November 2011, Hillary Clinton became the first US secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years.

Obama has sought to consolidate ties and reinforce US influence across Asia in what officials have described as a policy “pivot” toward the region as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

Burma grew close to China during decades of isolation, reinforced by western sanctions over its poor human rights record, but is now seeking to expand relations with the west.

Obama met Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to the US in September. Thein Sein was also there in September for the general assembly of the UN but the two men did not meet.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years in detention under the military as the figurehead of the pro-democracy movement and was elected to parliament in April, will be in India just before the mooted date for Obama’s visit to Burma.

“She is leaving for India on a week-long visit on 12 November but I am not sure when exactly she will be back,” Nyan Win, an official of her National League for Democracy party, said.

Obama is travelling to south-east Asia to attend meetings in Cambodia centred around an annual summit of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which is usually extended to take in leaders of partner countries.

Preliminary details for this year show the event will run from 15-20 November and the Cambodian government has said Obama will be in the capital, Phnom Penh, on 18 November. The US administration has not confirmed that.

The heads of government of China, Japan, Russia and other countries are also expected in Cambodia for the meetings.

Thai media have said Obama may also visit Thailand, like Burma an Asean member, while he is in Asia, but that could not be confirmed. (The Guardian)


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