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British minister visits Burma

The UK’s International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell has called on the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners, during the first visit by a British minister in decades.

Mitchell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “enough had changed to justify a visit and engagement like this.”

"It is clear that there are grounds for cautious optimism, but the picture is mixed," he said.

"On the one hand, there is now proper dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government and they have released some of the political prisoners.

"But, on the other hand the ethnic conflicts which besmirched Burma continue and we've also seen also a failure to release a large number of political prisoners, some of whom are key to Burma's future."

Mitchell also said he had "unfettered access to all levels of government" during the visit, adding: "So in terms of a dialogue there is clearly significant movement, but there are a lot of words still, we need to see actions, and in particular, we need to see these political prisoners released."

The minister is expected to meet high-level government official and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed last year, after years under house arrest.

Burma has seen a shift in policy since it held its first election in 20 years in late 2010, replacing the junta with a military-backed civilian government, but critics claim the shift is designed to achieve the lifting of sanctions by the international community.

Burma is still accused of committing war crimes and genocide against ethnic groups in the country, including the Kachin and the Rohingyas, with human rights group accusing the Burmese army of rape and murder.

See our previous articles:

'US hails dramatic change in Burma as Kachin complain of atrocities' (11 Oct 2011)

'US urged on UN-led probe into Myanmar atrocities, as rapes escalate' (27 Sep 2011)

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