WASHINGTON: United States President Barack Obama on Monday threw his support behind Myanmar President Thein Sein in his drive to reform a former pariah state but warned that a wave of violence against Muslims must stop.
As his guest became the first leader of his country in almost 50 years to visit the White House, Obama praised Myanmar’s journey away from brutal junta rule and promised Washington would offer more political and economic support.
Obama said that once tortured US-Myanmar relations had eased because of “the leadership that President Sein has shown in moving Myanmar down a path of both political and economic reform.”
Obama repeatedly used the word “Myanmar” rather than Burma. The former is the name introduced during military rule, and which is slowly being used more frequently by US officials as a courtesy to the reforming government.
The US President said that Thein Sein had made “genuine efforts” to solve the intricate ethnic wars that have long torn at Myanmar’s unity, but expressed “deep concern” on the plight of Rohingya Muslim minority.
“The displacement of people, the violence directed towards them, needs to stop,” Obama said.
The visit went ahead despite accusations by human-rights groups that Myanmar authorities turned a blind eye or worse to a wave of deadly attacks against the Rohingya, who are not even considered citizens.
Thein Sein told Obama that he was committed to reforms and, in a speech shortly afterward, said he wanted to build a “more inclusive national identity.”
“Myanmar people of all ethnic backgrounds and all faiths—Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others—must feel part of this new national identity,” he said, while stopping short of directly mentioning the Rohingya.
“We must end all forms of discrimination and ensure not only that intercommunal violence is brought to a halt, but that all perpetrators are brought to justice,” he said at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
Thein Sein, who took office as a nominal civilian in 2011, said that the reforms he has undertaken were “unprecedented” and called for “maximum international support.”
“Periods of transition are always fraught with risk. But I know my country and my people,” he said.
“I know how much people want to see democracy take root, put behind decades of isolation, catch up with other Asian economies and end all violence and fighting,” he said.