WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama is set to visit Burma this month, as part of a four-day trip to Southeast Asia. The president will also stop in Thailand and Cambodia.
Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Burma and Cambodia. The trip is scheduled for November 17-20.
Administration officials say that while in Rangoon, the president will meet with Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Priscilla Clapp, the former charge d’affaire at the U.S. embassy in Rangoon, told VOA’s Burmese Service Thursday that the president’s visit will help advance efforts toward democracy in Burma.
Recent High-Ranking Visits to Burma
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited in April. Praising President Thein Sein, he urged further rollback of Western sanctions
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton opened a new EU office in Burma on April 28 after the bloc suspended sanctions
British PM David Cameron visited in April, met with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in November
“That will further consolidate the [bilateral] relationship, and I think it will be very good because President Obama will then have personal experience in Myanmar and we’ll see a strengthening of our current policy,” Clapp said.
A White House statement says Obama hopes “to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition” during his visit.
U.S.-Burma relations have improved greatly since a nominally civilian government took power last year, ending five decades of military rule, and instituting some democratic reforms and freeing many political prisoners.
Opposition to visit
But the Washington-based human rights group, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, is asking Obama not to go to Rangoon. The organization’s Jennifer Quigley says the reforms made so far in Burma are superficial.
“There are a lot of really serious outstanding human rights issues that warrant the president taking a deeper look at fixing those problems and seeing resolutions to those issues before he goes and gives the sort of stamp of approval to President Thein Sein,” Quigley said.
The group wants Obama to visit parts of Burma where, it says, religious and ethnic minorities are still being oppressed.
The Burmese military continues an offensive against ethnic Kachin minorities in the north, and unrest in Rakhine state has killed numerous Rohingya Muslims.
Other human rights organizations support President Obama's visit, adding that they hope it will be accompanied by a continued emphasis on human rights in Burma.
Other Stops on Trip
Obama will also be the first U.S. president to visit Phnom Penh, where he will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In Bangkok, the president will meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The two leaders will mark 180 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Thailand.
Obama is expected to talk with Asian leaders about economic and trade issues, energy and security cooperation as well as human rights and other regional and global issues at the ASEAN summit.