U.S. President Barack Obama praised Monday in Yangon the transition to democracy that began in Myanmar with the dissolution of the military regime 20 months ago.

Obama, the first U.S. head of state to visit the nation formerly known as Burma, met with President Thein Sein, considered the architect of the reforms, and also with Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and leader of the democratic movement.

"(O)ur goal is to sustain the momentum for democratization," Obama said after meeting with Suu Kyi at her Yangon residence, where she remained for almost 15 years under house arrest.

"The United States has been staunch in its support of the democracy movement in Burma, and we are confident that this support will continue through the difficult years that lie ahead. I say difficult because the most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight," Suu Kyi said.

In a speech given at the University of Yangon, the alma mater of Suu Kyi's father, Burmese independence hero Gen. Aung San, Obama praised the work done by Thein Sein since he took power in his country.

"Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform. A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself," he told students.

"The once-outlawed National League for Democracy stood in an election, and Aung San Suu Kyi is a Member of Parliament," Obama said. "Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been released, and forced labor has been banned."

Obama's six-hour visit to Myanmar was preceded by Thein Sein's order to release 66 prisoners, 43 of them leading political or human rights activists and heads of ethnic militias. EFE