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9 June 2009

Former Singapore PM on ‘goodwill trip’ to Myanmar

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Former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong visited Myanmar amid international pressure on the military regime to halt its trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, AFP quoted Myanmar officials as saying.

Goh was set to meet Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Than Shwe, Prime Minister Thein Sein and other senior officials on the "goodwill" trip, a Myanmar official and a Singaporean statement said.

The visit comes just days after the Singaporean government said that expelling Myanmar from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) was not the way to bring about reform in the army-ruled country.

"Mr Goh Chok Tong arrived in Yangon this afternoon to start his four-day goodwill visit," the Myanmar official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

"He will meet with Senior General Than Shwe and other senior leadership in Naypyidaw (Myanmar's remote administrative capital) on Tuesday."

Singapore said that Goh was visiting Myanmar for the first time in 11 years at the invitation of Thein Sein, after the Myanmar premier visited the island city state in March.

It said Goh would "use the visit to update himself on developments in the country" but did not mention Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on charges of breaching her house arrest that could leave her in jail for up to five years.

Goh is now a senior minister in the cabinet of his successor, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Goh succeeded Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew -- Lee Hsien Loong's father -- as prime minister in 1990 and stepped down in 2004.

He will visit Myanmar's second largest city, Mandalay, and also officially open a hospital in Yangon completed with Singaporean assistance as part of a recovery plan following last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis, it said.

Myanmar has faced rare criticism from fellow members of Asean, including Singapore, in recent weeks since it put Aung San Suu Kyi on trial over a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Last month Singapore said it was "dismayed" by the charges against her and urged the junta to release her.

But the Singaporean government added that Asean should not expel the most troublesome of its 10 member nations, saying that the bloc will have greater influence on Myanmar by maintaining dialogue.

Myanmar's ruling generals have kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for 13 of the past 19 years since refusing to recognise her party's landslide victory in elections in 1990.


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