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Myanmar's Suu Kyi to visit US 'next week': Obama

State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the opening ceremony of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on Aug 31, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

September 6, 2016

VIENTIANE: Myanmar's newly installed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi will meet President Barack Obama in the United States next week, a senior White House official said on Tuesday (Sep 6).

Plans for a visit had been announced in July but no date had been given.

"She'll be visiting Washington and meeting with the president on Sep 15," deputy US national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Laos, where Obama is on a two day visit.

During a speech earlier in the day, Obama said he looked forward to welcoming Suu Kyi "as we stand with the people of Myanmar in their journey towards pluralism and peace".

The invitation reinforces Suu Kyi's primacy on the international stage as the real head of a government which she is technically barred from leading.

Despite winning a landslide in last November's elections, which ended decades of military rule, the Nobel laureate is banned by a military-era constitution from becoming president.

Instead she has taken the role of foreign minister and created a new position for herself as state counsellor. She has also appointed a longtime friend and ally, Htin Kyaw, to be a proxy president.

Obama and Suu Kyi first met in 2012 shortly after the veteran dissident was released from house arrest, where she had spent much of the last two decades under military rule. He also met Suu Kyi during a visit to Myanmar in 2014, when he criticised the ban on her assuming the presidency.

Myanmar's peaceful transition from military to civilian rule has been hailed in a world where such transitions seem rare. But the military remains enormously influential.

Officers are still guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats, giving them a veto on constitutional change, while the military retains control of the crucial home, border and defence ministries.

It also controls huge business conglomerates, with some key army-linked figures still under US sanctions. There have been suggestions Washington may lift some of those sanctions during Suu Kyi's visit, something which rights groups have balked at.

"US sanctions are focused on the Burmese generals and their cronies in order to encourage democratic reforms," said John Sifton, from Human Rights Watch. "They shouldn't be fully lifted until the democratic transition is irreversible."

Rhodes said Washington was determined to improve Myanmar's prospects by helping it trade with the world. "Some of that involves sanctions relief and we've taken steps to relax sanctions and to authorise greater activity and it's something we continue to look at," he said.

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