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Hague meets Suu Kyi after plea

William Hague called on the Burmese government to release all remaining political prisoners as he met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an historic visit to the country.

The Foreign Secretary, the first to travel to Burma in more than 50 years, had dinner with the Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy campaigner ahead of formal talks.

After talks earlier with the regime, Mr Hague said that the UK stood ready to "respond positively" to improvements in human rights and political freedoms.

But he signalled that further progress was required by the international community if the country, the subject of sanctions, was to be brought in from the cold.

President Thein Sein unexpectedly embarked on a series of liberalising measures after coming to office last year, including opening talks with Ms Suu Kyi.

Critics caution however that significant numbers of political prisoners - variously estimated to number between 590 and 1,700 - remain behind bars, despite government promises to free them, while reports of abuses against ethnic minorities continue.

The visit by Mr Hague is the latest by world counterparts, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, amid efforts to bring Burma back into the international fold.

"I emphasised the importance the British Government attaches to the reforms that the Burmese government has undertaken in the last six months, and my sincere hope that there will be further progress in the weeks and months ahead," he said following the talks with the government. "I made clear that the British Government stands ready to respond positively to evidence of further progress towards that lasting improvement in human rights and political freedom that the people of Burma seek."

He made clear however that the UK expected to see the release of all political prisoners, credible by-elections in April and humanitarian access and peace talks in highly-impoverished ethnic areas.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has now re-registered as a political party and will contest a series of 48 parliamentary by-elections due to take place on April 1, in what is being seen as an important test of the reform process.

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