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Activists Slam Myanmar Leader's Visit To Britain

posted 15 Jul 2013, 12:22 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 15 Jul 2013, 12:23 ]

Activists from global campaign group Avaaz erect a 'graveyard' outside the British parliament to warn David Cameron against Myanmar becoming another Rwanda as the Prime Minister welcomes President Thein Sein to London for trade talks.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JULY 15, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Myanmar President Thein Sein, the first leader of his country to visit Britain in more than 25 years, held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday (July 15), as activists held a demonstration against Myanmar's human rights record.

Sein is in London to talk trade, aid and democracy with Cameron and his ministers during a two-day visit at a time when Myanmar is opening up its oil, gas and telecoms sectors to foreign investors, with further liberalisation likely.

Cameron was under pressure to confront Sein over the treatment of Myanmar's Muslim minority, but faced a tricky balancing act since he has made it clear he wants to expand Britain's trade links with emerging economies such as Myanmar.

Sein said in a statement released on his website on Sunday (July 14) that he had disbanded a security force accused of rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in the west of Myanmar, scene of deadly violence between Muslims and majority Buddhists in the past year.

Sein, a former military commander, is trying to get the West to help Myanmar's economy recover from decades of military dictatorship, Soviet-style planning and international sanctions.

Western leaders have praised him for ending the house arrest of opposition leaderAung San Suu Kyi, releasing some political prisoners, and allowing the opposition to fight an election.

But they want him to further loosen the military's grip before a 2015 presidential election which the Suu Kyi hopes to contest.

About 30 activists from the global campaign group Avaaz protested outside theBritish parliament with a banner reading: "Cameron - Don't let Burma become the next Rwanda", a reference to the 1994 genocide when hundreds of thousands were killed.

Two activists wearing papier mache head mouldings of Cameron and Sein hugged each other in front of dozens of stylised cardboard Muslim graves.

At least 237 people have been killed in Myanmar in religious violence over the past year and about 150,000 people have been displaced. Most of the victims were Muslim and the deadliest incidents happened in Rakhine State, where about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live, according to the United Nations.

Avaaz Campaign Communications Sam Barratt told Reuters Television that there were unmistakable comparisons with Rwanda on the eve of the 1994 genocide in which Hutu soldiers and militiamen slaughtered around 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, in the span of 100 days.

"We saw what happened in Rwanda and that's why we raised the alarm bell now. There are so many parallels with the history of this, there are so many parallels with the way the media is being used, and also the Burmese government is doing nothing to quash that. And we're very worried now that unless action is taken and the alarm bell is rung, we could see another Rwanda in Burma," he said.

The General Secretary of the UK-based Burmese Rohingya Organisation, Ahamed Jarmal expressed his disappointment with the British government's decision to invite the Myanmar leader to Downing Street.

"Despite knowing record level of human right violation in Burma, ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas and also very high likely that Burma can become next Rwanda, and he still [David Cameron] welcome President Thein Sein to this United Kingdom and also giving him red carpet," he said.

Cameron visited Myanmar last year, and Sein, who remains close to the military, this year became the first leader of his country since 1966 to visit the White House.

His British trip is thought to be the first since the late General Ne Win, who ruledBurma for 26 years, visited in 1986. Burma became independent from Britain in 1948.

Sein is expected to visit France afterwards.