President Obama will make history later this month by becoming the first U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, which after nearly five decades of military rule has shaken off its pariah status by taking tentative steps toward democratic reform.
The Obama administration views the thaw in the relationship between the United States and Myanmar as a positive achievement of its foreign policy.
However, human rights activists say it is too early to reward Myanmar with a presidential visit.
Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said Mr. Obama must not visit Myanmar just yet. Myanmar formerly was known as Burma.
In a letter to the president, Aung Din cited a raging war between Myanmar’s military and ethnic Karen rebels in the country’s north and communal violence involving stateless Muslim Rohingyas in the west
He also said freed political prisoners are vulnerable to being arrested again. He added that the judiciary is flawed and the military still dominates the economy and politics.
“I seriously doubt to call this situation a transition to democracy. That’s why, I request you not to visit Burma at this time,” Aung Din wrote in his letter to Mr. Obama.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in December became the first U.S. secretary of state to travel to Myanmar in 56 years.
In July, the Obama administration sent diplomat Derek Mitchell to Myanmar as the first U.S. ambassador in two decades.
Mr. Obama’s trip to Asia, from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20, will also include stops in Thailand and Cambodia.
The president will meet Myanmar’s opposition leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and the country’s reformist president, Thein Sein.
Mrs. Suu Kyi made a historic visit to the United States in September. At the time of her release from house arrest in November 2010, she had spent 15 of the previous 20 years in prison or under house arrest.
Thein Sein, a retired general, told the U.N. General Assembly’s annual meeting in September that his country has taken “tangible, irreversible steps in the democratic transition and reform process.”
The Obama administration has rewarded Myanmar by waiving import sanctions. Congress in August extended some sanctions on Myanmar by a year but gave the president the authority to waive the import sanctions.
U.S. relations with Myanmar have thawed over the past year as the military-backed government has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized opposition political parties, eased restrictions on the press and enacted laws to strengthen workers’ rights. But there are still more than 300 political prisoners in Myanmar.
Human rights activists have warned that easing sanctions on Myanmar will deprive the United States of a tool to keep the military-backed government committed to reform.