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Myanmar Civil Society Delegation Visits Clinton

In the latest sign of an air of freedom in Myanmar, a civil society delegation from that country made a historic visit to the United States.

The delegation, in its first U.S. visit, met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department on Wednesday.

The delegation included Burmese comedian and recently-freed former political prisoner Zaganar, National League for Democracy (NLD) women's empowerment activist Khin Than Myint, and National Democratic Front Kachin ethnic minority rights activist Daw Bauk Gyar.

They discussed political prisoners, women's rights, and the situation of ethnic minorities in Myanmar with senior officials of the State Department.

During her visit of the South East Asian country in December, Clinton had met Zaganar while participating in a civil society roundtable in Rangoon. She was the highest-ranking American official to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years.

The top U.S. diplomat told Myanmar President Thein Sein that she was cautiously optimistic about her trip that came in the midst of reforms being implemented in the reclusive country, and stressed that the country's military-backed civilian government would have to do a lot more for the United States to respond positively.

The new government made significant changes in recent months, and President Thein Sein held ground-breaking private talks with freed Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in August last year. It pushed through amendments to the party registration act, paving the way for the NLD to re-enter the political fray.

Suu Kyi, who had become an international symbol of peaceful resistance during the military-rule, registered to contest the country's upcoming parliamentary by-elections.

Myanmar's democratically-elected government has released more than 20,000 prisoners over the past eight months, including many political prisoners freed last month.

In the latest sign of democratic reform, the government signed a ceasefire deal with the Karen rebels - who have fought for greater autonomy for more than 60 years. The reforms evoked positive response by the international community.

European Union eased visa ban imposed on Myanmar's President Thein Sein, the Vice-Presidents, Cabinet members and the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament in recognition of the "remarkable program of political reform."

On Tuesday, Clinton signed a partial waiver of restrictions imposed on Myanmar, enabling the United States to support assessment missions and limited technical assistance by international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in that country.

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