Myanmar’s leader met President Obama at the White House on Monday and pledged his government’s commitment to democratic reforms, an end to communal violence and a cease-fire with ethnic minority rebels fighting in the northern part of his Southeast Asian nation.
He said that while periods of transition are inherently fraught with risk, he is convinced that his countrymen want to see democracy flourish.
Thein Sein warned that there are “spoilers” in his country “who see their interests threatened,” but he said his government’s commitment to reform will never waiver.
At the White House, Mr. Obama praised Thein Sein for leading his country in a “new direction” and making “genuine efforts” to resolve long-standing ethnic conflicts, but Mr. Obama also raised his “deep concern” over communal violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
More than 100,000 stateless Muslim Rohingyas have been left homeless following clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine. They have also been raped, detained and killed by security forces.
“The displacement of people, the violence directed toward them needs to stop,” Mr. Obama said.
The United States is prepared to work “in any ways that we can with both the government of Myanmar and the international community to assure that people are getting the help that they need, but more importantly, that their rights and their dignity is recognized over the long term.”
The Obama administration began normalizing ties with Myanmar in 2011 as Thein Sein’s government took steps toward reform, including releasing more than 850 political prisoners, easing restrictions on the media and allowing freedom of speech, assembly, and movement.
The United States has lifted most sanctions and appointed an ambassador to Myanmar for the first time since 1990.
Thein Sein apprised Mr. Obama of his government’s plans to release more political prisoners, institutionalize reforms and end ethnic conflicts.
He said his government needs “maximum international support, including from the United States” as it implements political and economic reforms.
“I believe what we are trying to achieve in Myanmar is unprecedented in our history,” he said. “We are transitioning from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one … all under the burden of remaining economic sanctions.”
Some members of Congress and human rights activists are worried that the reforms, which have not been institutionalized, can be easily undone. Thein Sein’s military-backed government also has done little to end the war against ethnic minority rebels in the northern Kachin state and to protect Rohingyas, they say.