Violence against Muslims must stop
US President Barack Obama on Monday threw his support behind Myanmar President Thein Sein in his drive to reform a former pariah state but warned that a wave of violence against Muslims must stop.
As his guest became the first leader of his country in almost 50 years to visit the White House, Obama praised Myanmar's journey away from brutal junta rule and promised Washington would offer more political and economic support.
The US president said that Thein Sein had made "genuine efforts" to solve the intricate ethnic wars that have long torn at Myanmar's unity, but expressed "deep concern" on the plight of Rohingya Muslim minority.
"The displacement of people, the violence directed towards them, needs to stop," Obama said.
However, Obama said that once tortured US-Myanmar relations had eased because of "the leadership that President Sein has shown in moving Myanmar down a path of both political and economic reform."
Obama repeatedly used the word "Myanmar" rather than Burma. The former is the name introduced during military rule, and which is slowly being used more frequently by US officials as a courtesy to the reforming government.
The visit went ahead despite accusations by human rights groups that Myanmar authorities turned a blind eye or worse to a wave of deadly attacks against the Rohingya, who are not even considered citizens.
Thein Sein told Obama that he was committed to reforms and, in a speech shortly afterward, said he wanted to build a "more inclusive national identity."
"Myanmar people of all ethnic backgrounds and all faiths -- Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others -- must feel part of this new national identity," he said, while stopping short of directly mentioning the Rohingya.
"We must end all forms of discrimination and ensure not only that intercommunal violence is brought to a halt, but that all perpetrators are brought to justice," he said at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
Thein Sein, who took office as a nominal civilian in 2011, said that the reforms he has undertaken were "unprecedented" and called for "maximum international support."
Thein Sein surprised even cynics by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, reaching ceasefires with ethnic rebel groups, easing censorship and letting long-detained opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.
The most critical test of reform will come in 2015, when Myanmar is scheduled to hold elections -- testing whether the military would truly cede power and potentially let Nobel laureate Suu Kyi become president.
The Obama administration has already suspended most sanctions on Myanmar and was to sign an agreement for greater dialogue on trade, hoping to show the country tangible benefits for embracing reform.