US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit Burma

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Media captionAung San Suu Kyi on whether her party should re-enter politics

The US has agreed to send Hillary Clinton to visit Burma next month, in the clearest sign yet that decades of isolation could be ending.

President Barack Obama said there were "flickers of progress" in Burma.

Mr Obama spoke to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi before deciding to send Mrs Clinton - the first secretary of state to visit in 50 years.

Ms Suu Kyi's movement is also expected to announce later that it will lift its boycott on taking part in elections.

Burma was ruled by a brutal military junta for decades, but the generals ceded power last year after elections that they tightly controlled.

The new government, which is still led by former junta members, has undertaken important reforms.

Crucially, President Thein Sein has held a number of meetings with Ms Suu Kyi, who was previously held under house arrest.

The president recently reformed election laws that banned prisoners from contesting elections.

Ms Suu Kyi's political movement, the National League for Democracy (NLD), boycotted elections last year largely because they felt the rule would have barred Ms Suu Kyi from running.

But the NLD is now expected to agree to officially register as a party and contest by-elections.

'Positive transition'

Mr Obama, speaking at a regional summit in Bali, said he had called Ms Suu Kyi from Air Force One on Thursday.

"Last night, I spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi directly and confirmed she supports American engagement to move this process forward," he said.

Mrs Clinton would "explore whether the United States can empower a positive transition in Burma", he said.

"That possibility will depend on the Burmese government taking more concrete action. If Burma fails to move down the path of reform it will continue to face sanctions and isolation," he said.

The US maintains economic sanctions and travel bans against members of the former junta.

The US announcement comes a day after leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) agreed that Burma could chair the regional bloc in 2014.

Burma was passed over for its turn at the rotating presidency last time because of its human rights record. But Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said member states believed Burma had made significant progress towards democracy.

Meanwhile, a BBC cameraman in Rangoon, Burma's main city, says there are pictures of Ms Suu Kyi on the front pages of magazines and posters of her on news-stands.

Under the junta, displaying pictures of her was in effect banned, and state media often ran abusive commentary pieces.

But since her release from years of house arrest, she has been allowed to meet party officials and speak to the media.

Senior officials from her National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, are now meeting in Rangoon to discuss formally rejoining the political process.

Ms Suu Kyi is known to back such a move and an announcement is expected later today.