YANGON: US President Barack Obama plans to visit Myanmar on November 19 and meet both his counterpart, Thein Sein, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a senior government source in the Southeast Asian country said yesterday.
Obama’s visit would be further strong endorsement by the international community of Myanmar’s transformation under the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011 to end half a century of military rule.
Obama would be the first serving US president to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“So far as I understand, President Obama is coming to Myanmar on Nov 19 and he will meet both President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, of course on separate occasions,” the government official said, using honorifics and asking not to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Neither the government nor the US embassy would confirm the date.
The United States suspended sanctions on Myanmar this year in recognition of the political and economic changes under way, and many US companies are looking at starting operations in the country, located between China and India, with abundant resources and low-cost labour.
In November 2011, Hillary Clinton became the first US secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years.
Obama has sought to consolidate ties and reinforce US influence across Asia in what officials have described as a policy “pivot” toward the region as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
Myanmar grew close to China during decades of isolation, reinforced by Western sanctions over its poor human rights record, but is now seeking to expand relations with the West.
Obama met Suu Kyi during her visit to the United States in September. President Thein Sein was also there in September for the General Assembly of the United Nations but the two men did not meet.
Suu Kyi, who spent years in detention under the military as the figurehead of the pro-democracy movement and was elected to parliament in April, will be in India just before the mooted date for Obama’s visit to Myanmar.
“She is leaving for India on a week-long visit on November 12 but I am not sure when exactly she will be back,” Nyan Win, an official of her National League for Democracy party, said.
Obama is coming to Southeast Asia to attend meetings in Cambodia centred around an annual summit of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which is usually extended to take in leaders of partner countries.
Preliminary details for this year show the event will run from November 15 to 20 and the Cambodian government has said Obama will be in the capital, Phnom Penh, on November 18.