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    Myanmar leader visits Britain, rights record under scrutiny

    British Prime
    Minister David Cameron (L) greets Myanmar President Thein Sein at 10 Downing
    Street in central London on July 15, 2013. (AFP/ANDREW COWIE)
    By Andrew Osborn
    July 15, 2013
    LONDON (Reuters) –
    President Thein Sein, the first leader of Myanmar to visit Britain in more than
    25 years, held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday as activists
    protested against the Asian nation’s human rights record.
    Sein said in a
    statement released on his website on Sunday that he had disbanded a security
    force accused of rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in
    the west of Myanmar, scene of deadly violence between Muslims and majority
    Buddhists in the past year.
    Sein was due to
    talk trade, aid and democracy with Cameron and his ministers during a two-day
    visit at a time when Myanmar is opening up its oil, gas and telecoms sectors to
    foreign investors, with further liberalisation likely.
    Cameron was under
    pressure to confront Sein over the treatment of Myanmar’s Muslim minority, but
    faced a tricky balancing act since he has made it clear he wants to expand
    Britain’s trade links with emerging economies such as Myanmar.
    Sein, a former
    military commander, is trying to get the West to help Myanmar’s economy recover
    from decades of military dictatorship, Soviet-style planning and international
    sanctions.
    Western leaders
    have praised him for ending the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu
    Kyi, releasing some political prisoners, and allowing the opposition to fight
    an election.
    But they want him
    to further loosen the military’s grip on the mineral-rich state formerly known
    as Burma before a 2015 presidential election which the British-educated Suu Kyi
    hopes to contest. Suu Kyi visited Britain last year.
    About 30 activists
    from campaign group Avaaz protested outside the British parliament with a
    banner reading: “Cameron – Don’t let Burma become the next Rwanda”, a
    reference to the 1994 genocide when hundreds of thousands were killed.
    Two activists
    wearing papier mache head mouldings of Cameron and Sein hugged each other in
    front of dozens of stylised cardboard Muslim graves.
    “Cameron
    should never have invited Sein,” said Jamal Ahmed, General Secretary of
    the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. “Giving him the red carpet treatment
    knowing about the record level of human rights abuses is wrong.”
    Before the talks,
    Human Rights Watch urged Cameron to press Sein on justice for crimes against
    humanity, to release remaining political prisoners and to end repressive laws.
    At least 237 people
    have been killed in Myanmar in religious violence over the past year and about
    150,000 people have been displaced. Most of the victims were Muslim and the
    deadliest incidents happened in Rakhine State, where about 800,000 Rohingya
    Muslims live, according to the United Nations.
    Cameron’s office
    said it would provide details of the talks later. A spokesman said he had
    planned to raise human rights.
    “In all our
    relationships, nothing is ever off the table,” the spokesman said.
    “This will be an opportunity to discuss political and economic reform in
    Burma and, yes, as part of that human rights will be discussed.”
    Rushanara Ali, a
    lawmaker from the opposition Labour party, said Britain’s voice could make a
    difference.
    “It is
    important not to underestimate the soft power influence that Britain has on the
    Burmese government. We’ve got a unique responsibility,” she told Reuters.
    Cameron visited
    Myanmar last year, and Sein, who remains close to the military, this year
    became the first leader of his country since 1966 to visit the White House.
    His British trip is
    thought to be the first since the late General Ne Win, who ruled Burma for 26
    years, visited in 1986. Burma became independent from Britain in 1948.
    Sein is expected to
    visit France afterwards.
    (Additional
    reporting by Jemima Kelly and Peter Griffiths; Editing by Alistair Lyon)