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Obama speaks to Myanmar president, opposition leader Suu Kyi

October 31, 2014

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama spoke on Thursday to Myanmar President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in separate calls in which they discussed the country's political reforms and the need to address ethnic tensions, the White House said.

Obama is due to make his second presidential visit to Myanmar in mid-November to attend a pair of regional summits, amid growing U.S. 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.

In his call with Myanmar's president, Obama stressed the importance of Thein Sein's government taking additional steps to address the tensions and the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state as well as measures to support the civil and political rights of the Rohingya people, the White House said.

It added that "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."

Violence erupted across Rankine state in 2012 between ethnic Rankine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, killing at least 200 people and displacing 140,000, most of them Rohingya.

In Obama's call with Suu Kyi, they discussed the status of Myanmar's political and economic reforms and the need for an "inclusive, credible process" for conducting the 2015 elections, the White House said.

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 for the first time with the powerful armed forces chief, Senior General Min Aung Holing, talks that the Nobel laureate has sought since she became a lawmaker in 2012. 

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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