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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs