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Myanmar President Thein Sein Makes Historic Visit to White House

President Obama will meet with Myanmar president Thein Sein on Monday amid criticism the White House is being too friendly with the former Western pariah


Myanmar President Thein Sein will make an historic visit to the White House on Monday as the first leader of his country to do so in half a century.

President Barack Obama will sit down with the former general who will then speak to US business leaders eager to invest in a lucrative market that was recently off limits.

The meeting comes amid criticism that the White House is being premature in extending the invitation to Thein Sein.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is still struggling with human rights abuses, and ethnic and sectarian violence has worsened since Washington started loosening sanctions against the country formerly led by a military junta.

According to a Reuters report published last week, apartheid-like policies are segregating minority Muslims in prison-like ghettos.

Violence between ethnic Buddhists in the western state of Rakhine and Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognized by Myanmar as citizens, claimed 192 lives last year. The majority of those killed were Muslims.

Thein Sein argues that the reforms implemented in recent years - including the release of hundreds of political prisoners including opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi - have put the country on the right track.

Speaking to Voice of America, Thein Sein said he would tell Obama that his country's reforms were stable and would call for a complete end to economic sanctions.

"Relations have greatly improved thanks to the policies of President Obama," he told a forum on Sunday. "For our political reforms, we also need more economic development."

The White House wants to seize the opportunity to forge a relationship with a nation that has long been considered a pariah by the West.

Last November, Obama became the first sitting president to visit Yangon and hailed Thein Sein's democratic reforms.

"A dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip. Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform. A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself," he said.

Human rights groups are questioning how far Washington's policy shift should go and why the White House is moving so quickly in its relationship with Myanmar.

The Washington-based US Campaign for Burma told Reuters that 1,100 ethnic Rohingya and 200-250 Kachin have become political detainees in the past year.

"When they abuse ethnic minorities, it really undercuts their credibility and undermines our ability to work with them," said Republican Rep. Trent Franks, one of a group of US lawmakers arguing for lifting the sanctions against Myanmar more slowly.