US officials gauge post-Clinton progress

US envoy to Burma Derek Mitchell is in Naypyidaw to assess developments in the country since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an historic visit in December last year. Accompanying the envoy is Luis CdeBaca, an anti-human trafficking official in the US government.

This is Mitchell’s fourth visit to Burma since Washington embarked on a diplomatic offensive in the middle of last year aimed at coaxing the military-backed government in from the cold.

Clinton became the most high-profile US figure to visit the country in more than half a century, and brought with her demands for ending US sanctions on Burma, including the release of the country’s estimated 1,600 political prisoners.

But while the trip was supposed to galvanise Burma’s rulers into enacting further reforms, observers have been left disappointed by the apparent slow-down in progress over the past month, particularly following a prisoner amnesty in early January that included only 32 political prisoners.

Mitchell will stay in the country for four days, and Cdebaca for three days. The two will meet with a range of government officials and opposition figures, as well as various NGOs. Cdebaca is also due to meet with the government-formed National Human Rights Commission.

Clinton has taken a personal interest in the scourge of human trafficking in Burma. In June 2009 she launched the annual Trafficking in Persons report where she described the problem in Burma as “significant” and a form of “modern slavery” that “fuels violence, threatens public health and safety [and] shatters families”.

Cdebaca will meet with Burmese officials to discuss workers’ rights and their efforts to fight trafficking of women into the sex trade. Mitchell is also due to travel to northern Thailand to meet with officials and NGOs there to discuss Burmese refugees.

The visit coincides with reports that officials from the IMF will arrive in Burma this week to pursue discussions with Burmese officials over reforming the country’s beleaguered economy.

The US said in December that it will “agree to and support” assessment missions to Burma by the World Bank and IMF as one of a number of rewards for recent reforms, among which is the permission granted to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run in April’s by-elections.

The World Bank ceased its operations in the country in July 1987, and since 1998 Burma was considered unable to pay back its debts to the Bank. The IMF however still carried out annual trips to the country but has not provided any assistance.

On top of Mitchell and Cdebaca’s visit, US congressman Joseph Crowley is expected to make his first trip to the country later this week to further encourage reforms.

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