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US Senator John McCain visits Myanmar to assess reforms

YANGON, Myanmar -- U.S. Sen. John McCain began a brief trip to Myanmar on Wednesday to assess the situation in the country after a new civilian government promising reform took over from a military junta several months ago.

Rights groups and critics say little has changed since the new government took power in March. They say the new government is simply a proxy for the military and little has been done to address widespread abuses or to free more than 2,000 political prisoners remaining behind bars.

McCain arrived in the administrative capital, Naypyitaw, where he is expected to meet one of the nation's vice presidents as well as lawmakers, a Myanmar government security official said, refusing to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

On Thursday, McCain is scheduled to meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest late last year but remains closely monitored by authorities.

Speaking in Bangkok on Tuesday, McCain said he would assess “the changes being contemplated by the new government, how serious they are about reform.”

He called Suu Kyi, who he met 15 years ago in Yangon, “a person I have admired more than any other ... living individual.”

McCain's trip follows a visit last month by another top U.S. official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Y. Yun. Yun urged the government to take “meaningful, concrete steps toward democratic governance” and called on authorities to release political prisoners.

Myanmar, under military rule since 1962, held its first elections in 20 years in November. Suu Kyi's political party boycotted the polls and critics say the vote was designed to deliver power to the military's allies.

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