Myanmar's gov't welcomes Obama's historic visit

Myanmar's government said Friday that it "warmly welcomes" President Barack Obama's decision to visit the country this month, saying it will increase the momentum of democratic reform.

Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit the onetime pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.

Presidential office spokesman Maj. Zaw Htay says he believes the "support and encouragement by the U.S. president and American people will strengthen the commitment of President Thein Sein's reform process to move forward without backtracking."

Zaw Htay said in a statement Friday that the government hopes "bilateral relations and cooperation will significantly increase after this historic visit."

During his Nov. 17-20 trip, Obama will also travel to Thailand and Cambodia, the latter another first for a U.S. president.

Meanwhile, nine foreign embassies in Myanmar issued an unusual joint statement to push for assistance to residents of the strife-torn western state of Rakhine.

The planned visit comes as ethnic tension in Rakhine has caused international concern, threatening to slow the tide of goodwill toward Thein Sein's elected government, which is modernizing and liberalizing the government after almost five decades of repressive military rule.

Almost 200 people have died since June in fighting between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities. More than 100,000 have been made homeless and are living in ramshackle refugee camps scattered around the state.

A statement issued Friday and jointly signed by the embassies in Myanmar of nine nations urged all parties "to work together to bring an immediate end to the violence" and said it supported government efforts to restore security and stability.

"We further encourage the Government to enable safe, timely, and unhindered humanitarian access across Rakhine State to all persons in need," it said. "The international community stands ready to help with humanitarian aid and longer-term development assistance in Rakhine State, and is committed to doing so through coordinated efforts to ensure maximum effectiveness and efficiency."

The statement was signed by the embassies of Australia, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.