World News

Obama Praises Burma Reforms, Calls For End to Attacks on Muslims

U.S. President Barack Obama praised Burma's president on Monday for his leadership in pushing through political reforms, but warned that ethnic and communal violence targeting minority Muslims in that country must stop.

Mr. Obama spoke at the White House alongside Burmese President Thein Sein, the former general who in 2011 became president after Burma's first democratic election in more than five decades.


"We very much appreciate your efforts and leadership in leading Myanmar in a new direction and we want you to know that the United States will make every effort to assist you on what I know is a long and sometimes difficult but ultimately correct path to follow."


The U.S. leader thanked his counterpart for helping to reduce tensions between the two nations, and praised what he called Thein Sein's "genuine efforts" to end decades of ethnic warfare that has blocked Burmese unity. He said the Burmese president laid out plans for the release of more political prisoners jailed under decades of military rule.

President Thein Sein acknowledged his country still faces significant challenges as it moves to institute more democratic reforms. He called the the path forward a "daunting task" made more difficult by widespread poverty in his homeland.


"We are trying our best with our own efforts to have political and economic reforms in our country. But we will also need the assistance and understanding from the international community, including the United States."


Activists have protested the Thein Sein visit, citing ongoing civil strife in Burma. Outside the White House Monday, protesters carried signs demanding an end to ethnic violence targeting Burma's Muslims.



Throughout Monday's statements, President Obama repeatedly referred to the Southeast Asian nation as Myanmar, the name adopted by the military that controlled the country's political life for decades. The White House said its use of Myanmar, rather than its normal reference to Burma, was a limited courtesy aimed at acknowledging Mr. Thein Sein's progress with political and economic reforms since taking office.

At a town hall meeting Sunday at the Voice of America, the Burmese leader said the communal violence against Muslims in western Burma is criminal activity, and not civil strife. He also acknowledged what he called "heavy handed" actions by some police in their efforts to control political dissent in his country, and said both protesters and police must understand their responsibilities as democracy takes hold.

Human rights groups have accused Mr. Obama of sending the wrong message to Burma by scheduling the Thein Sein visit. They say the invitation reduces pressure on the Burmese leader to release political dissidents and stop violence against ethnic minorities.

On Monday, the U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights released a report accusing Burmese authorities of standing by in March while militants attacked an Islamic boarding school in the central town of Meiktila. The group said attackers killed at least 20 children and four teachers.

Burmese authorities have repeatedly disputed accusations by rights groups that security forces ignore or participate in the violence.

Some U.S. lawmakers also have said they will try to slow the process of lifting U.S. sanctions on Burma to keep the pressure on Mr. Thein Sein to address those and other concerns.

The U.S. already has suspended most of its economic sanctions on Burma, as part of an effort meant to encourage further reforms. U.S. officials say the two countries on Tuesday will sign an agreement on boosting trade, labor standards and investment.

At a glamorous dinner sponsored by several major U.S. corporations Monday in Washington, President Thein Sein welcomed further American investment in his country, saying he hopes to build the foundation for a "robust middle class."

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs