September 22, 2009 / 1:02 PM / 10 years ago

Myanmar PM to attend UN assembly after 14-yr absence

YANGON (Reuters) - The prime minister of army-ruled Myanmar plans to visit the U.N. General Assembly for the first time in 14 years, a government official said on Tuesday.

Myanmar's Prime Minister General Thein Sein, in this February 27, 2009 file photo. When General Thein Sein travels to New York he will be the most senior junta member to attend the annual gathering of world leaders since the second-in-command, Maung Aye, in 1995. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom/Files

When General Thein Sein travels to New York he will be the most senior junta member to attend the annual gathering of world leaders since the second-in-command, Maung Aye, in 1995.

“He is leaving Myanmar for New York via Singapore this weekend,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The visit follows the decision by the United States to lift a visa ban to allow the country’s Foreign Minister, Nyanm Win, to visit the Myanmar embassy in Washington before going to the U.N.

Since a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Myanmar in 1988, Washington has maintained a broad range of sanctions on the generals, including travel restrictions, to force them to initiate reforms.

The Obama administration is reviewing its policy towards the former Burma, although there are no signs of a change in its stance towards sanctions, which have been largely ineffective because of continued trade with neighbours China and India.

Relations between the United States and Myanmar appear less frosty than in recent years after last month’s visit by Senator Jim Webb, the first by a U.S. official in more than a decade, which was described by the junta as “a success for both sides”.

Myanmar’s military, which has ruled the country since a 1962 coup, will hold elections next year, the first in two decades, as part of its protracted seven-stage “road map” to democracy, a plan derided as a sham by critics of the regime.

An Asian diplomat in Yangon said the Myanmar premier will use the trip try to convince the international community of the legitimacy of the polls.

“He will explain the election to the general assembly and some officials from Obama administration and prominent politicians, including Jim Webb, on the sidelines of this trip,” the diplomat added.

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jason Szep

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