WASHINGTON -- President Obama will travel to Myanmar later this month, a senior administration official said Thursday, in what will be the first trip by an American president to the once isolated country as it moves toward democracy from military dictatorship.
The White House announced the trip on Thursday, and advance security teams have been preparing for weeks as part of Mr. Obama's planned trip to Southeast Asia for a scheduled international economic summit meeting in Cambodia, where he would be the first American president to visit. The trip, to begin next week, is expected to include a stopover in Thailand.
As the first trip overseas for Mr. Obama since his re-election on Tuesday, the visit would carry symbolic importance in Asia, where the Obama administration has engaged more closely as China increasingly asserts itself in the region.
China was Myanmar's main international patron during the final years of military rule in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. President Thein Sein, who came to power last year, has embraced the United States and other Western countries as impoverished Myanmar institutes democratic changes and courts foreign investment. The opening to the West comes amid a backlash in Myanmar against China's perceived influence there, as well its role in extracting natural resources in the country.
Mr. Obama will meet with the leader of the opposition, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the Burmese leadership, including Mr. Thein Sein, according to news reports in Myanmar. Mr. Obama met with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to the United States in September.
A trip to Myanmar is not without political risks for Mr. Obama because the transformation of the country, however rapid, is still considered fragile. Since coming to power, Mr. Thein Sein has freed hundreds of political prisoners, allowed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to run for Parliament and begun dismantling an intricate censorship system.
But the military retains an influential role in the country and is fighting a protracted civil war with the ethnic Kachin minority group in the north of the country. In Western Myanmar violence between Buddhists and Muslims has killed about 100 people since June, and critics say the government has not done enough to ensure the safety of Muslim villagers.
The U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Burmese exile group that has been critical of the government, urged Mr. Obama on Thursday to cancel his trip.
"This government has continuously failed its own responsibilities in serving the people of Burma," said Aung Din, the director of the exile group.
Mr. Aung Din, a former student activist who fled a bloody crackdown by the military in 1988, said reforms were not yet firm enough to receive Mr. Obama's blessing: several hundred political prisoners remain under detention, the judiciary is still not independent and the military is "still above the law and dominant in the country's political affairs with supreme powers," Mr. Aung Din said.
The United States has been adjusting its relationship with Myanmar for months, easing sanctions and returning an ambassador to the country as a way of rewarding and encouraging the political shift there. Late last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Myanmar, making her the first secretary of state to visit since 1955, when John Foster Dulles tried to woo the country into a regional alliance against China.
Helene Cooper reported from Washington and Thomas Fuller from Bangkok.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.