Anger as Barack Obama rewards Burmese President Thein Sein with White House visit despite recent claims of violence

Thein Sein becomes Burma's first head of state to visit Washington since Lyndon Johnson invited military dictator Ne Win in 1966

Welcoming the first Burmese head of state to visit the White House in nearly 50 years yesterday, President Obama said “the leadership of President [Thein] Sein” had “allowed this shift” in the relationship.

“Shift” is an understatement: eight months ago, Burma's President was still on a blacklist barring him from travelling to the United States. Yesterday he and his closest colleagues were honoured guests in the Oval Office.

Military rule was replaced by a new military-backed civilian government in Burma in 2010, and President Obama made "engagement" with the reclusive South-east Asian nation a theme of foreign policy in his first term - one that came to unexpected fruition after Thein Sein came to power in April 2011.

President Obama acknowledged the sweeping scale of the reforms enacted by Thein Sein. "Over the last two years, we've seen steady progress in which political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi  have been released and they have been incorporated into the political process,” he said. “We've seen credible elections and a legislature that is continuing to make strides in more inclusivity and greater representation of all the various ethnic groups in Myanmar."

Replying, Thein Sein said that although the two countries now had “similar governments since Myanmar is now a democracy…our democratic government is just two years old…We need a lot of practice to be better.” He described his talks with Obama as “fruitful, candid and frank.”

Thein Sein's visit to Washington provoked a blistering attack by the US Campaign for Burma (USCB), which called it "yet another gift to the Burmese government". Activists point to multiple ongoing problems in Burma. Buddhist-Muslim violence has flared for decades, but the attacks in Arakan state last June and October, then in March in central Burma, caused far more death and dislocation than any in the past.

In a recent report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch claimed the October attacks were carefully coordinated, and saw the hand of the authorities behind them.

Trumpeted ceasefires with the Karen ethnic minority on the Thai border have yet to lead to solid peace agreements, while the army has been given a free hand to bomb and strafe Kachin ethnic rebels in the north.  Jennifer Quigley, executive director of USCB, criticised yesterday's visit. She said: "President Obama is sending the message that crimes against humanity by state forces against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma will be ignored by his administration."

Both Presidents conceded that Burma has a long way yet to go. Thein Sein said, "For democracy to flourish we will have to undertake more economic and political reforms in the years ahead...and will need the assistance and understanding of the international community, including the US."

President Obama, who called the country ‘Myanmar’, not Burma, following the Burmese military’s usage, concurred. "As President [Thein] Sein is the first to admit,” he said, “this is a long journey, and there is still much work to be done."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power