British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar on Friday, the first major Western leader to visit the long-isolated country since a 1962 coup began a half-century of military rule.
His visit, confirmed by local sources, comes almost two weeks after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won historic April 1 by-elections by a landslide, convincing the US and EU to consider relaxing economic sanctions imposed years ago in response to human rights abuses.
Just days after the vote, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the EU might lift some sanctions, but it would carry on pushing for the release of remaining political prisoners.
British firms are among those seeking access to what could be huge opportunities in energy, mining, financial services, telecoms and tourism in Myanmar.
Big businesses across Europe want the EU to lift sanctions in the coming weeks, a move that would allow them into the country ahead of their US rivals. A formal European decision is expected on April 23.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party said Cameron will meet the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Friday at her lakeside villa where she had been kept under house arrest until November 2010, and the two would dine together that evening at the British ambassador’s residence.
Cameron is also visiting Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia, -accompanied by a delegation of 35 business representatives from defense, energy, construction and other industries.
He will visit Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, today and travel to Malaysia tomorrow, the first official visit to that country by a British leader in almost 20 years.
His visit to Myanmar would be the first by a British prime minister since 1955, seven years after the end of British colonial rule of the former Burma.
He will also be the first major Western leader to step foot in Myanmar since a 1962 coup ushered in 49 year of unbroken -military rule that ended last year, when a junta handed power to a quasi-civilian government stacked with former generals.
The government has since freed hundreds of political prisoners, begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed some media censorship, allowed trade unions and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of China.
It was rewarded in November last year when US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the first visit to the country by a US secretary of state since 1955.