Myanmar president welcomes closer Australia ties

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 18, 2013 at 3:27 am •  Published: March 18, 2013

"It is not fully normalizing defense relationships, but it is opening the door and it is a vital first step so that we can then consider further proposals in the future, including proposals about training," she said.

Australia's arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer to Myanmar of arms and related materiel. It also prohibits the provision of technical advice, assistance or training to Myanmar related to military activities.

Australia in July last year lifted targeted travel and financial sanctions against Myanmar's rulers in response to the country's democratic reforms.

Many of Myanmar's most pressing challenges involve strife among its many ethnic groups, and that was reflected in Thein Sein's visit. About 50 members of the Rohingya ethnic community traveled 300 kilometers (180 miles) from their homes in Sydney to protest peacefully outside Parliament House.

About 200 people, mostly Muslim Rohingya, have died since June in violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Other Rohingya have died trying to escape Myanmar in rickety boats.

Protest organizer Mohammed Anwar said the violent persecution of his people must end before Australia rebuilds military and other ties.

"The president could stop the persecution if he wants," Anwar said. "But currently, he isn't doing anything."

The United Nations estimates the Rohingya population in Myanmar at 800,000. Most are denied citizenship and have no passports, and they are not among the 135 ethnic groups recognized by the Myanmar government. The government considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many of their families have lived in the country for generations.

Thein Sein said in a November letter to the United Nations that Myanmar will consider new rights for the Rohingya, though he gave no timetable and promised no changes.

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