US President urges Myanmar leader to support civil and political rights of the stateless Rohingya Muslims minority.
US President Barack Obama has urged Myanmar’s president to address ethnic tensions in his country, while also discussing political reforms with the opposition leader.
The White House said Obama had separate telephone conversations on Thursday with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of a second presidential visit to Myanmar next month.
His visit in mid-November comes amid growing US concerns about human rights abuses in Myanmar, including the jailing of journalists and alleged oppression of stateless Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities caught in conflict with government troops.
Obama urged Sein to take additional steps to address ethnic tensions and support the civil and political rights of the Rohingyas.
The White House said Obama welcomed the commitment of President Thein Sein and his government to the peace process, and urged that every effort be made to conclude a national ceasefire in the short term.
Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine state on the western coast of the predominantly Buddhist country. Almost 140,000 Rohingya remain displaced after deadly clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
Obama’s call came just before Thein Sein and Myanmar’s powerful military chief were due to hold an unprecedented high-level meeting on Friday with major political parties and ethnic minority groups as cracks widen in the fledgling democracy ahead of an election next year.
The talks will be the first of their kind in Myanmar and will see Suu Kyi meet the powerful armed forces chief, Senior General Min Aung Holing for the first time, talks that the Nobel laureate has sought since she became a lawmaker in 2012.
Obama also spoke with Suu Kyi about the upcoming elections, and how Washington can “support efforts to promote tolerance, respect for diversity, and a more inclusive political environment,” the White House said.
“Obama expressed his appreciation for Aung San Suu Kyi’s work to promote a more democratic Burma,” it added.
Myanmar’s last general elections in 2010 were marred by widespread accusations of cheating and were held without the National League for Democracy or Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who was detained until days after the vote.
Since then, Thein Sein has implemented a number of dramatic reforms, and Suu Kyi has entered parliament.
Her party is expected to win a good number of seats in the legislature in next year’s polls, and parliament will select a president.
But the 69-year-old Suu Kyi is currently barred from taking the top job by the constitution because her late spouse and children are foreign nationals.