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Clinton meets Myanmar President Thein Sein for landmark business talks

SIEM REAP, Cambodia -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Myanmar President Thein Sein on Friday for landmark discussions days after Washington eased its sanctions on the once-pariah state.

The pair began talks in the Cambodian tourist town Siem Reap on the sidelines of a U.S. business conference, after the U.S. on Wednesday gave the green light to firms to invest in Myanmar, including in oil and gas, in its greatest loosening of tough sanctions so far.

It is Clinton's second meeting with Thein Sein after she became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Myanmar in half a century during a trip to the country late last year, as reforms took hold of the long military-dominated nation.

Washington has faced criticism from rights groups concerned it is moving too fast in its eagerness to cash in on Myanmar's vast business potential.

But the decision will please U.S. firms eager not to miss out on what some economists expect to be a gold rush in the resource-rich nation.

Asian firms have been doing business in Myanmar for years, while the European Union suspended most of its sanctions against the country in April.

“I am sending a very prestigious business delegation,” Clinton told Thein Sein, after shaking hands with the former general, adding that she wanted the representatives to hear his plans.

Myanmar on Friday said Thein Sein and Clinton were expected to discuss changes that have swept Myanmar since a quasi-civilian government replaced the military junta last year.

Clinton acknowledged Friday in a speech to a women's forum in the Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap that in Myanmar as it opens up “there will be a lot of challenges” but said she hoped to see “continuing progress there.”

Myanmar — along with regional neighbors — has called for all sanctions to be lifted as the country embarks on its “second wave” of economic reforms.

Left impoverished by decades of economic mismanagement and isolation under army rule, the country is seen as the next big frontier in Asia for firms wanting to take advantage of its resources, cheap labor force, high growth potential and strategic position between China and India.

Earlier Friday, Clinton announced that the United States will provide five countries in Southeast Asia with US$50 million over three years to assist them with health, education and environment programs. The recipients of the aid are Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.

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 ASEAN falls short of China row accord 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Myanmar President Thein Sein shake hands before a meeting at Le Meridien Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia on Friday, July 13. Clinton is in Cambodia to attend an ASEAN regional forum and meet with other ministers and leaders to strengthen economic and strategic relationships between Asia and the U.S. (AP)

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