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Asia-pacific

British foreign minister begins historic trip to Burma

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-05

British Foreign Secretary William Hague began a two-day trip to meet Burma's leaders on Thursday, calling on the government to release political prisoners. It is the first visit to the country by a British foreign minister in more than 50 years.

AFP - British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on Myanmar to release all its political prisoners as he began a historic visit to meet the country's leaders on Thursday.

Hague's two-day trip, which will include talks with President Thein Sein as well as democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, is the first by a British foreign minister in more than half a century.

Myanmar's nominally civilian government took power in March following controversial elections but has surprised observers by its reformist moves.

"I am visiting the country to encourage the (Myanmar) government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process," Hague said before leaving Britain.

He had talks with senior members of the government after arriving in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday morning, and was to fly to the country's commercial hub Yangon later for meetings with Suu Kyi.

"Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom," a statement released by the Foreign Office said.

"In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation."

Since taking office Thein Sein, himself a former junta general, has held dialogue with Suu Kyi, suspended an unpopular Chinese-backed mega dam and shown a desire to reach out to the international community.

Some political prisoners have also been released but the government this week caused disappointment when it announced a cut to jail terms for all inmates but failed to issue a much-anticipated amnesty for detained dissidents.

Washington said Tuesday's decision fell short of the level of reform expected by the United States to justify a reward in return.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, from November 30 to December 2, while British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell travelled there in mid-November.

"Our common objective is to see political freedom in Burma, and constructive engagement which helps further that goal is very important," Hague said.

Clinton, who was the first US secretary of state to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years, said she saw "openings" during her three-day trip that "give us some grounds for encouragement." She met both Thein Sein and Suu Kyi.
 

Date created : 2012-01-05

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