September 22, 2009 / 2:55 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. allows Myanmar minister to visit Washington

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a gesture toward Myanmar’s military rulers, the United States has allowed the country’s foreign minister to travel to Washington to visit the Myanmar embassy, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Foreign Minister Maj. Gen. Nyan Win did not meet any U.S. officials while in Washington and is now in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition that he not be named.

“The foreign minister has already made a side trip to Washington ... while in Washington he did not meet anybody from the U.S. government,” the official said.

Relations between the United States and Myanmar, which has been under military rule for almost five decades, have been strained this year by the junta’s conviction of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an internal security breach.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years in some form of detention, was sentenced on August 12 to another 18 months of house arrest, enough to keep her off the campaign trail for next year’s elections.

Suu Kyi was indicted in May for breaking a security law protecting the state from “subversive elements” a few weeks before her house arrest was due to be lifted.

Her trial triggered international outrage and critics said the charges were trumped up by Myanmar’s military rulers to minimize her influence before Myanmar’s elections next year.

The charges stemmed from a bizarre incident in May, when an American, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside home in Yangon and stayed there, uninvited, for two days. He was sentenced to seven years’ hard labor but was later deported.

Myanmar plans to hold its first election in two decades next year, which the junta says will bring an end to almost five decades of unbroken military rule. Few, however, are convinced, and say the army will still hold the real power.

The Obama administration is reviewing its policy toward Myanmar, sometimes known by its colonial name Burma. While U.S. sanctions have not brought change in Myanmar, there appears to be little sentiment now in the administration to ease them.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Paul Eckert

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