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Newly re-elected US President Barack Obama will visit Rangoon later this month, a Burmese government official said Wednesday, in the latest sign of Washington’s support for reforms in the former pariah state.
“Obama will come to Yangon [Rangoon] on November 19. He will meet with the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi here,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding further details were unavailable because of security concerns.
Relations between the US and Burma have thawed significantly since President Thein Sein took the helm of a quasi-civilian regime last year and ushered in a period of sweeping reform.
Fresh from his re-election triumph, Obama has a small window for foreign travel before Thanksgiving on 22 November and deliberations in Congress about averting a destructive budgetary arrangement known as the “fiscal cliff”.
The White House has not confirmed any trip to Myanmar.
Cambodian officials said Obama was also expected to travel to Phnom Penh to attend the East Asia summit, an annual gathering of leaders of Southeast Asian nations and regional partners including China and Russia, which ends on 20 November.
The Obama administration has encouraged the political developments in Burma under the new regime that replaced half a century of military rule.
Thein Sein made a landmark trip to New York in September, becoming the first Burmese leader to speak to the UN General Assembly, following a series of visits to Burma by US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Suu Kyi also visited the US on a historic tour that coincided with the Burmese leader’s schedule and included a meeting with Obama.
“We welcome his visit. We are also glad that he won the election. He met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Washington during her visit and was very knowledgeable about Myanmar [Burma],” Ohn Kyaing, a spokesman for the opposition leader’s National League for Democracy, told AFP.
He said the party had “heard he would come here but we did not know the date”.
“No American president has visited Myanmar in a long time… It’s more than 50 years,” he added.
The opposition party of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has been welcomed back into mainstream politics under the dramatic reforms, which have also included the release of hundreds of political prisoners and a series of tentative ceasefires with ethnic minority rebels.
In response to the reforms the US and other western countries have rolled back sanctions, despite concerns about an ethnic conflict raging in northern Kachin state and a surge in communal violence in western Arakan.
Washington lifted sanctions on American investment in Burma in July, enabling a major US trade delegation to visit the country.
Global corporate giants from Coca-Cola to General Electric have already begun to vie for a share of an expected economic boom in the long-isolated nation.
The US has also lifted 2007 sanctions on Thein Sein and parliament speaker Shwe Mann and announced it would ease a ban on imports.