Obama in Myanmar to throw weight behind stuttering reforms

US President Barack Obama landed in Myanmar on 2Wednesday as the once cloistered nation hosted its biggest gathering of world leaders since shedding junta rule, but concerns over the pace of democratic reforms surfaced immediately.

Nay Pyi Taw: US President Barack Obama landed in Myanmar on 2Wednesday as the once cloistered nation hosted its biggest gathering of world leaders since shedding junta rule, but concerns over the pace of democratic reforms surfaced immediately.

Obama, who will meet Southeast Asian leaders and attend the East Asia Summit in the purpose-built capital of Naypyidaw, signalled he would throw his political might into re-igniting the democratic process.

"In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward," Obama said in an interview with news website The Irrawaddy published just before he arrived on today night from China.

"In addition to restrictions on freedom of the press, we continue to see violations of basic human rights and abuses in the country's ethnic areas, including reports of extra-judicial killings, rape and forced labour."

Earlier, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also in Nay Pyi Taw, highlighted the "serious humanitarian issue" of Myanmar's displaced Muslim Rohingya minority.

Around 140,000 Rohingya languish in fetid camps after bouts of violence left scores of people dead mostly from the Muslim group in eastern Rakhine State.

Speaking to reporters, the UN chief urged Myanmar's authorities to step back from moves which could deny citizenship to the minority group, vowing to press President Thein Sein for "easy access" for UN agencies to displacement camps.

Myanmar, which was swept into the diplomatic hinterland under decades of harsh military rule, has been gradually welcomed back into the international fold since the start of reforms in 2011.

Those saw the release of most political prisoners and the promise of free and fair polls next year.

The reforms have seen most sanctions lifted, while foreign investment has poured into the untapped market of some 50 million people.

Obama two years ago became the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, in an initial effort to add momentum to the reforms.

Since then wrangles over the constitution, the cramping of media freedom as well as tinderbox issues such as ethnic rebellions and the anti-Muslim violence, have taken the sheen off Myanmar's emergence onto the world stage.

In comments just days before Obama's arrival, opposition leader and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi sought to temper US "over-optimism" over the country's progress.

Obama is set to meet Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw, then with Suu Kyi in the economic hub of Yangon on Friday.

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