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Obama to visit Myanmar, an overture to a one-time pariah

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Khin Maung Win/AP

(Read caption) Boatmen wait for passengers at a jetty Friday, Nov. 9, in Sittwe, Rakhine state, western Myanmar. Myanmar's government says it 'warmly welcomes' President Obama's decision to visit the country this month, noting it will increase the momentum of democratic reform. Obama will become the first US president to visit the once pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.

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Rarely has a country been brought back into the American fold as fast as Myanmar (also known as Burma) has. 

Starting in late 2010, the military junta that has run the country since 1962 stunningly reversed course.

Not only did it release Aun San Suu Kyi, whose political party won the 1990 elections that the military promptly ignored, from almost two decades of imprisonment and house arrest, but allowed her unprecedented freedom of movement and political organization.

Last year the country swore in a civilian government – though still tightly controlled by the military – released hundreds of political prisoners, and rescinded its ban on Ms. Aun San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

This year, the country again released hundreds of political prisoners, held parliamentary by-elections the NLD won in a landslide, and promised elections for a new parliament in 2015. 

The pace of change in Myanmar, a country whose ruling generals implacably resisted outside pressure for change for decades, even as the country descended into penury under the weight of US sanctions and the corrupt and capricious rule of the military, has been matched by American and European overtures.

This summer the EU rescinded almost all of its sanctions on Myanmar. This June the US suspended many of its own sanctions, particularly allowing US firms to invest in the government-controlled oil and gas industry, and sent Derek Mitchell as the first US ambassador to Myanmar in 22 years.


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