US hopes to resume hunt for remains of service personnel in Myanmar

YANGON (AFP) - The United States said on Tuesday that it hopes to resume searching in Myanmar within months for the remains of servicepeople left unaccounted for in World War II, amid improving military and political ties.

A US delegation is due in Myanmar within days to prepare for expected missions in the spring and summer, an official from the US Defence Department said.

"The teams will research several promising World War II loss sites and gather information necessary to pinpoint future excavation sites," said Major Carie Parker, spokesman for the prisoner of war and missing personnel office.

Around 730 Americans are thought to be missing in Myanmar as a result of Allied operations against Japan in the region during World War II, according to the defence department.

The potential excavations, the first since 2004, are the latest sign of dramatic reengagement between Washington and Myanmar, as the former pariah state embarks on sweeping reforms as part of its emergence from decades of military rule.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the plans to resume work on finding the remains during her landmark visit to Myanmar in late 2011, which marked a key stage in improving relations.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government, which came to power in 2011, has surprised the international community with its reforms, including the release of political prisoners and the election of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

Washington has rewarded those changes by the dismantling of many major sanctions, the appointment of an ambassador and a historic visit by President Barack Obama in November.

The Obama administration, seeking a strategic shift to the Asia Pacific to counter China's role, is keen to expand its influence in a country where Beijing has had almost unchallenged dominance.

Officials said in October that the United States was willing to allow Myanmar to take part as an observer in major joint exercises in Thailand in 2013, an event that includes military teams from the US and Asian allies.

Last month the Pentagon said it was poised to take "nascent steps" to open up military ties, likely focusing on issues such as humanitarian assistance, as a way of bolstering political reforms.

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