Phnom Penh, Nov 19: Barack Obama became the first serving US President to visit Myanmar on Monday. He praised iconic pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi besides approving the country's initial political reforms.
Myanmar, which has seen a long-entrenched repressive rule led by a military junta, has been making pro-democratic moves in the recent years. The country was politically and economically isolated from the rest of the world for decades before it ended the military rule last year.
President Obama's popularity in Myanmar could be witnessed in Yangon where crowds waved US flags on the street leading from the airport to greet the man from the White House.
The US President later visited Cambodia, another Southeast Asian country, where he attended a summit of regional leaders. He also met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and stressed the importance of improving human rights there.
Obama's three-country trip, which also included Thailand, is his first overseas trip after the re-election earlier this month. The trip foreshadowed the Obama Administration's focus on Asia as a part of Washington's strategy to blunt China's influence in the region. Cambodia, like Thailand, is an ally of the USA while Washington is eyeing to get closer to Myanmar as well.
In Myanmar, Obama met Suu Kyi at the latter's lakeside villa where she had spent many years under house arrest for encouraging pro-democracy activities. The US President said his meeting with Suu Kyi marked a new chapter between the two countries. The latter, however, warned that political reforms in Myanmar would not be smooth.
Obama, who called the country by the government's preferred name of Myanmar instead of Burma, the older name which is used by Suu Kyi and her supporters, was a diplomatically show of support. Till Monday, Obama and his officials were preferring to call Myanmar by its older name. Burma's name was changed to Myanmar in 1989.Earlier, the President met Myanmar President Thein Sein, whose recent drive towards political reform saw hundreds of political prisoners being released and the country's economy being opened. Thein Sein told Obama that he was committed to improving bilateral relations with Washington.
The US President also gave a speech at the University of Yangon where he appealed to the people of Myanmar top carry on with its "remarkable journey".