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    US Accepts Burma's Invitation to Observe April 1 Vote

    Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) gives her speech beside the National League for Democracy party's candidate for the Seikkan Township constituency, Dr. Myo Aung at Seikkan, Rangoon, March 21, 2012
    Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) gives her speech beside the National League for Democracy party's candidate for the Seikkan Township constituency, Dr. Myo Aung at Seikkan, Rangoon, March 21, 2012

    The United States said it has accepted Burma's invitation to send two election observers and three journalists to monitor and report on upcoming by-elections in the Southeast Asian nation.

    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, speaking Wednesday, praised the invitation, calling it a "welcomed first step" by Burma's new government as it seeks to restore ties with the West. Those ties were severely strained by decades of Burmese military rule. Nuland said Washington will consult with other observer countries, including a grouping of Southeast Asian nations, in the runup to the April 1 polls.

    The U.S. response came hours after the Thai-based Asian Network for Free Elections coordinator Somsri Hananuntasuk was told to pack her belongings and leave Burma on Tuesday. She was told to reapply for an appropriate visa instead of the tourist visa she used to enter the country last week.  

    She was attempting to persuade elections officials to allow her group to monitor the upcoming polls.

    The U.S. and European invitations mark a reversal from controversial elections in 2010, which brought to power a government dominated by close allies of the former military government.

    However the new administration has introduced a series of reforms, including permitting the opposition National League for Democracy and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to participate in the by-elections.

    Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Adrienne Nutzman, speaking in Rangoon, called it "notable" that the invitation was extended to foreign journalists as well. She said the move demonstrates an increased openness in the country.

    The United States and the European Union have said the April 1 elections will be a crucial test of the Burmese government's commitment to reform, and will in large part determine whether long-standing Western sanctions will eventually be lifted.

    VOA correspondent U Kyaw Zan Tha discusses the importance of the by-elections with U.S. Special Envoy to Burma, Derek Mitchell:

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