U.S. President Barack Obama became the first American president to visit Burma on Monday, in an effort to encourage the nation’s moves towards respectability in the international community.
“Reforms launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundation,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at Yangon University in the capital, Rangoon. “The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished – they must become a shining North Star for all this nation’s people.”
A “new era” for Burma was declared last April, when the opposition party, led by reformist Aung San Suu Kyi, won practically every seat it contested in the first democratic elections held there since a military junta ruled out voting in 1990.
“Over the last several decades, our two countries became strangers,” the president said. “But today, I can tell you that we always remained hopeful about you – the people of this country. You gave us hope. And we bore witness to your courage.”
Aung San Suu Kyi was released from 22 years of house arrest in November 2010 and went on to win a seat in parliament during the April elections. President Obama met with her before giving his speech, reports CBS News.
Suu Kyi expressed caution to President Obama during their meeting.
“The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight,” she said. “Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success. And that we are working toward genuine success for our people and for the friendship between our two countries.”
President Obama also met with Burmese President Thein Sein, said he had “reached agreements on the development of democracy” in his country.
The name of the country is still a note of difference between the two sides. While the U.S. and democracy reformists refer to the country under its original name of Burma, the military government insists on calling it Myanmar. The president used both names depending on whom he was speaking with during his visit.
Burma is one of three Asian countries President Obama is visiting, the first foreign trip he has made since winning re-election earlier this month. He visited Thailand on Sunday, and went on to Cambodia after the Burma meetings.