Myanmar president to visit Washington in May

Myanmar President Thein Sein plans to visit Washington later this month, a move that would make him the first Myanmar leader in half a century to visit the U.S. capital, the Associated Press and other media reported.

A staff member at the U.S. Congress told the media that the landmark visit would include a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.

The reported plan comes as the U.S. State Department decided Thursday to terminate a ban imposed on visas for Myanmar officials since the 1990s.

The ban was first imposed in 1996 to "prevent travel to the United States by those associated with the former military regime, who had impeded Burma's transition to democracy," a senior State Department official told reporters.

"The visa ban of 1996, however, was imposed under conditions that have dramatically changed, especially over the last two years," the official said, referring to Myanmar's reform efforts and last year's bi-elections.

"So terminating that visa ban from 1996 allows us to facilitate greater engagement with the Burmese by more narrowly defining who is prohibited from traveling to the United States. So it's a very important message to the Burmese," the official said.

The latest U.S. step and Thein Sein's planned visit to Washington are apparently seen as a sign of the Obama administration's support for Myanmar's reform efforts, despite a recent surge in anti-Muslim violence in the country.

The Myanmar president has warned that his government is ready to use force against what he called "political opportunists and religious extremists."

At least one person was killed Tuesday in religious riots north of the capital Yangon. More than 40 people died in unrelated religious clashes in central Myanmar last month.