State TV: Myanmar president to make landmark U.S. visit

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Myanmar’s president will soon make the first state visit to the United States by a leader of the former pariah nation in almost half a century, state television announced Monday.

It did not say exactly when former general Thein Sein -- whose quasi-civilian government has won international plaudits for its political reforms since taking power two years ago -- would travel to Washington.

Myanmar government officials told AFP they were aware of the planned visit but did not know the precise dates.

The trip, which was first reported by AFP earlier this month, will be the first to Washington by a head of the country since military leader Ne Win was invited in 1966 by president Lyndon Johnson.

Thein Sein has previously visited the U.S. to attend the U.N. General Assembly, but only held meetings in New York.

The former junta premier surprised even many skeptics by launching a raft of reforms after taking office in 2011 in the wake of controversial elections, freeing hundreds of political prisoners and relaxing censorship.

He has allowed opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi to take a seat in parliament, a drastic turnaround for the Nobel Peace laureate, who spent most of the previous two decades under house arrest.

In response, the West has begun to roll back most sanctions imposed against the former junta which ruled for almost half a century.

U.S. President Barrak Obama paid his own visit to Myanmar in November, when he praised the nation for its transition but called for progress on reforms, particularly in the treatment of ethnic minorities.

Thein Sein’s visit is expected to be controversial due to a surge in violence against the Rohingya, a Muslim people who are not considered citizens by Myanmar.

A recent Human Rights Watch study accused Myanmar of a “campaign of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.

The New York-based watchdog said many Rohingya were among 211 people killed in two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence since June 2012 in the western state of Rakhine, where tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced.