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British PM meets Myanmar leader on historic visit

Britain is the only major European power that has recently argued for keeping sanctions on Myanmar, but it appears to have changed its tune.



Naypyidaw: British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday met Myanmar`s President on the first visit in decades by a Western leader to the former pariah state, as world powers consider lifting sanctions.

Ex-general Thein Sein hailed the summit as "historic" as he welcomed Cameron to his official residence in the regime`s showpiece capital Naypyidaw.

"We are very pleased and encouraged by your acknowledgement of Myanmar`s efforts to promote democracy and human rights," he told Cameron.

The British Premier was also due to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon during the one-day visit, which follows the end of nearly half a century of outright military rule last year.

Britain -- Myanmar`s former colonial ruler – has traditionally taken a hardline stance on sanctions because of human rights concerns, but it has recently shown signs of softening its position.

"There is a government now that says it is committed to reform, that has started to take steps, and I think it is right to encourage those steps," Cameron said shortly after arriving in Naypyidaw, the BBC reported.

But he said people should be "under no illusion about what a long way there is to go".

Cameron, who was greeted at the airport by senior officials and an honour guard, lauded Suu Kyi as "a shining example for people who yearn for freedom, for democracy, for progress".

A steady stream of foreign dignitaries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, have visited Myanmar since a new quasi-civilian government took power last year.

But Cameron is the first Western head of government to go there since the military seized power in 1962, ushering in almost half a century of repressive junta rule and isolation from the West.

He is believed to be the first serving British Prime Minister to visit Myanmar, which won independence in 1948.

After one-to-one talks, Cameron was due to have lunch with Thein Sein, before travelling to the former capital Yangon for talks with Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past 22 years locked up at the hands of the former junta.

The veteran dissident holds huge influence in the United States and Europe, particularly London, and a move on sanctions would almost certainly need her support.

The 27-nation European Union already lifted some restrictions against the regime this year and foreign ministers will decide the next steps when they meet on April 23. (AFP)

PTI

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