Cameron Greeted in Burma for Historic Visit

13 Apr 2012

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British PM, David Cameron arrives Burma for historic visit


British Prime Minister David Cameron has arrived in Burma where he will need to tread a fine line in meetings with the country's leader and the head of the pro-democracy movement, reports Sky News.

Cameron knows his visit will encourage optimism and expectation of further reform in Burma.

But he will be preaching caution, knowing the country's progress towards democracy is fragile and could potentially be reversed.

There is an historic air to the visit - the first by a British prime minister since independence in 1948 (and possibly the first by a serving PM ever - the Foreign Office can find no trace of such a visit in its extensive records).

There is always the chance Cameron could end up with egg on his face. The process of reform in Burma has been as unexpected as it has been rapid, and a backlash from resentful members of the military - still overwhelmingly the dominant force in the country - cannot be ruled out.

However, British officials have been watching recent changes closely, in particular the by-elections which resulted in a landslide for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

They judge that now is the time for Cameron to personally endorse the process of reform, and to try to urge it forward.

Cameron has been encouraged by what he has been told by other regional leaders during his trade tour of the Far East .

Both the Malaysian prime minister and the Indonesian president told him of their belief that Burmese President Thein Sein is sincere in his desire to bring change - and most important of all Ms Suu Kyi has told Cameron of her conviction that the process of reform is genuine, and worth engaging with.

Cameron will take further soundings both from Ms Suu Kyi and the Burmese president during his trip.

He is anxious not to prejudge the outcome of the visit but the overwhelming likelihood is that in the near future the British government will urge the lifting of EU sanctions and will reverse the current policy of discouraging all trade links with Burma.

At the same time, Downing Street is anxious to dispel any sense that the Prime Minister, who has been banging the drum for British business throughout his tour of the Far East, will be exploring opportunities for commercial engagement with Burma in the future.

Downing Street officials stress that this is strictly a political visit. A handful of business figures who have travelled with Cameron remain on the prime ministerial plane, but the Government says they will have an exclusively cultural itinerary, and no occasion to talk shop.

Tags: World, News, David Cameron

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