Obama plans to visit Myanmar during upcoming Asia trip

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama will travel to Myanmar, where he will meet with President Thein Sein and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, on a trip to Asia later this month, the White House said Thursday, November 8th.

Obama will stop in Myanmar, also known as Burma, during a November 17-20 trip to "speak to civil society to encourage Burma's ongoing democratic transition," according to a news release.

It will be the first time a U.S. president visits the country.

The historic trip comes as Myanmar's new reformist president has created a opening for further democracy there.

Under Thein Sein, the Myanmar government has released hundreds of political prisoners in the past year, part of a series of reforms that have followed decades of repressive military rule. Western governments have responded to the efforts by starting to ease sanctions put in place to pressure the military regime.

Myanmar authorities have also engaged in peace talks with rebel ethnic groups and allowed Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, to successfully participate in special elections for the national parliament in April.

Suu Kyi, a democratic freedom activist who spent 15 years under house arrest, traveled to Washington earlier this year to accept the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal

She was kept for the better part of two decades under house arrest for advocating for democracy in Myanmar. The country's former military rulers ordered her detention, and in recent years her case has received an international spotlight. She paid a hefty personal price for standing up for freedom in Myanmar, which suffered under 50 years of autocratic, repressive rule.

Suu Kyi, who was awarded the medal in 2008, freed from house arrest two years later and elected to the Myanmar parliament this year, a historic moment in the country.

More recently, Myanmar has faced unrest between majority Buddhists and the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority.

The unrest began five months ago and has tested the efforts of Thein Sein's administration to seek reconciliation with Myanmar's different ethnic groups and move the country toward more democratic governance.