News / Asia

Burmese President Makes Historic Trip to Australia

President of Burma Thein Sein (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 18, 2013.
President of Burma Thein Sein (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 18, 2013.
Phil Mercer
In the first visit to Australia by a Burmese head of state since 1974, President Thein Sein began talks Monday (March 18) with officials in Canberra.  Political reform, social development and trade will be on the agenda, while human rights groups are urging the Australian government to press the Burmese leader on the treatment of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities
 
Australia has acknowledged recent reforms by the Burmese government by easing more restrictions and says it will send a defense attaché and a trade commissioner to its Southeast Asian partner.
 
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the measures were part of growing Australian support for Burma as it continues to build a democracy and strengthen human rights.  However, Canberra’s arms embargo will remain in place.
 
Prime Minister Gillard called it a “first step” toward normalizing defense relationships and also announced aid aimed at helping pro-democracy groups.
 
"Today I am delighted to announce an important new component of our aid program, a partnership for reform between our two countries," she said. "A $20 million commitment to strengthen democratic institutions, deliver human rights training, improve economic governance and promote the rule of law."
 
President Thein Sein appeared at a news conference Monday with the prime minister, and said he believes the two countries are destined to be partners.
 
He says he hopes that Australia will be generous in sharing her knowledge and experiences. He says he feels certain that relations will now enter a new and special phase.
 
Human rights campaigners protested at the Burmese Embassy in Canberra and Parliament House at the start of President Thein Sein’s visit.  Their message is that human rights must come before trade and investment in discussions between the Australian government and the Burmese leader.  
 
Activists are alleging that hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma, while they accuse the military of committing abuses against minority groups, including Rohingya Muslims.
 
Sean Turnell, an economist at Sydney’s Macquarie University, who closely watches events in Burma, says Australia must address these allegations.
 
“This is an issue, of course, that should be of concern to everyone, but it is an issue that is of concern to Australia because ultimately groups like that may well end up as part of the refugee flow to this country," he said. "So, I would imagine even for selfish reasons it would be an issue that Australia might be interested in talking to the Burmese president about.”     
 
Thein Sein, a former general, took office in March 2011, after Burma’s first election in 20 years.  He has led a process of reform after decades of military rule.
 
In Canberra, he has met the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, along with other senior officials and business leaders.   The Burmese president arrived in Australia following a trip to New Zealand, where he was promoting his country as a destination for foreign investment.  Burma is eager to revitalize its economy by overhauling its infrastructure, including roads, hotels and airports.

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid