Obama defends Myanmar trip
US President Barack Obama denied yesterday his upcoming trip to Myanmar was an endorsement of the government there, calling it an acknowledgement of the progress made in shaking off decades of military rule and encouragement for it go further.
Tomorrow, Obama will become the first US president to visit Myanmar, part of a three-country Asian tour that, as his first post-election trek abroad, will show he is serious about shifting the US strategic focus eastwards.
Some human rights groups have objected to the Myanmar visit, saying Obama was rewarding the country's quasi-civilian government before democratic reforms were complete.
Obama told a news conference in Thailand he knew there was much still to do.
"I don't think anybody is under the illusion that Burma's arrived, that they're where they need to be.
"On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time," Obama said.
"One of the goals of this trip is to highlight the progress made and give voice to the much greater progress that needs to be made in the future."
Late yesterday, state television in Myanmar said 66 more prisoners would be released today, bringing to 518 the number released over the past week.
Obama has made the freeing of all political prisoners one of the conditions for the full lifting of sanctions imposed on Myanmar for rights abuses under the junta.
Obama will meet President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has spearheaded political and economic reforms since taking office in March 2011, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the struggle against military rule and, like Obama, is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is now a lawmaker.
Afterwards, Obama will attend an East Asia summit in Cambodia.