British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he will press Burma to release its political prisoners during his first official visit to the southeast Asian country.
Hague’s historic visit to Burma begins in the capital, Naypyidaw, where he will meet president Thein Sein. He is then scheduled to travel to Rangoon to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Before departing London, Hague said he is visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform and to see what Britain can do to help the support this process.
But he said his country is particularly interested in seeing the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections and humanitarian access in conflict areas.
Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Burma in more than 50 years. In November, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first top diplomat from a Western nation to respond to recent reforms by the Burmese government with a visit.
Western leaders have commended Burma’s new government, which took over in March, for making steps toward a democratic reform. The new nominally civilian government also has modified election laws to enable longtime political prisoner and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to re-register her National League for Democracy as a political party and run in parliamentary by-elections due in April.
President Thein Sein, a former general, has surprised both the United States and the opposition with steps toward democracy and initiating dialogue with ethnic minorities. But many say a lot more needs to be done. Numerous governments and rights groups say Burma is still holding about 1,000 or more political prisoners who they say must be released and permitted to participate in the political process.