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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
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 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 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 US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
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 Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
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.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs