20 Nov 2012

Obama urges further reform in Myanmar

7:12 am on 20 November 2012

United States president Barack Obama has urged further and deeper reforms in Myanmar during a brief visit to the country - the first by an American president.

Mr Obama hailed the changes so far and promised continued American support for reform during his visit to the capital Yangon on Monday.

He called for an end to ethnic violence and persecution in the country, saying there was no excuse for the recent clashes between Muslims and Buddhists and made an impassioned plea for the inclusion of the Muslim Rohingya people, the BBC reports.

"I stand before you today as president of the most powerful nation on Earth but recognising that, once, the colour of my skin would've denied me the right to vote.

"And so that should give you some sense that if our country can transcend its differences, then yours can too."

Mr Obama also met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest before being freed in 2010 as part of political reform.

Ms Suu Kyi praised the US for its support but warned that her country, also known as Burma, still has some way to go.

"The United States has been staunch in its support of the democracy movement in Burma and we are confident that this support will continue through the difficult years that lie ahead.

"I say difficult, because the most time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight, then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success."

Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has released about 50 political prisoners to coincide with the visit of the American president.

They walked out of jails throughout the country in the latest of a series of amnesties. Activists believe authorities still hold about 200 political prisoners.

Barack Obama has since moved on to Cambodia for an Asian summit which will also be attended by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.