Obama tells Myanmar: Remarkable journey has just begun
Yangon - United States President Barack Obama has pledged support for Myanmar's reforms, telling an audience of over 1,000 Myanmars in a historic address at Yangon University that "America will support you every step of the way".
He also struck a note of caution, saying in a democracy the armed forces and the judiciary must submit to civilian rule and civilian leaders must be fully accountable to the law.
"This remarkable journey has just begun, and has much further to go. Reforms launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundation. The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished," he said.
In the first visit to Myanmar ever by a sitting US President, Mr Obama was greeted in the morning by hundreds of Myanmar schoolchildren lining the streets on his route, waving American and Myanmar flags.
His first stop was a call on Myanmar President Thein Sein, followed by an unscheduled stop by the spectacular 2600-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda before meeting opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at her house.
In brief remarks after the meeting to waiting reporters, Ms Suu Kyi struck a note of cautious optimism, saying: "The most difficult time in any transition is when we think success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success."
But she acknowledged: "As a result of the (American) President's visit… relations between our countries can only progress in the right direction."
In Mr Obama's speech at the university to a rapt audience that had been waiting for three hours, he said: "Over the last several decades, our two countries became strangers. But today, I can tell you that we always remained hopeful about you - the people of this country. You gave us hope. And we bore witness to your courage."
In an oblique reference to ongoing ethnic tension and conflict in Myanmar, he made a strong plea for tolerance, saying: "Ultimately, only the people of this country can define your union, but I have confidence that… you can draw on diversity as a strength, not a weakness.
"The United States of America... is shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We have tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows us that hatred in the human heart can recede, and the lines between races and tribe fade away.
"I stand before you today as president of the most powerful nation on Earth, where the colour of my skin would have once denied me the right to vote. So I believe deeply that this country can transcend its differences, and that every human being within these borders is a part of your nation's story.''
"No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation" he added, eliciting a round of spontaneous applause.
And referring to the ongoing sectarian violence in the Rakhine state which has seen the Arakanese battle the Rohingya - seen as illegal "Bengali" immigrants - he said: "The Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do and I do."
Praising the Myanmar government's sweeping reforms, he noted: "Today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship."
"America now has an Ambassador in Rangoon, sanctions have been eased, and we will help rebuild an economy that can offer opportunity for its people, and serve as an engine of growth for the world."