YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's government warmly welcomed two rare white elephants, traditional symbols of power and prosperity, and linked their appearances to the country's improving foreign relations.
The two pachyderms were feted at a lavish reception led by Vice President Sai Mauk Kham in the capital Naypyidaw, the state-run Myanma Ahlin daily reported Monday.
Government newspapers noted that an "improvement in the country's foreign relations" took place at the same time the animals were found. Myanmar last week was awarded chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for 2014, after being denied its previous turn.
The United States also announced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would visit next month, after years of frosty relations, as part of a U.S. initiative to engage with Myanmar and encourage its new elected government to go forward with political reforms after decades of repressive military rule.
The newspapers also hailed the elephants' capture as a sign the country will be peaceful and prosperous, saying white elephants emerge only in places where Buddhism flourishes and rulers govern justly.
White elephants – actually albinos – have been revered in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and other Asian nations for centuries. They were kept and pampered by monarchs and considered a symbol of royal power and prosperity.
Myanmar's present-day rulers, like many of the country's citizens, are said to be very superstitious. They have pampered five other white elephants captured between 2001 and 2010.
The newspaper said the male was 5 years old, about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and had been captured in Rakhine state. It said the female was captured in the Ayeyarwaddy region and was 15 years old and nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall.The new arrivals will be housed in an enclosure at the foot of Naypyidaw's Uppatasanti pagoda. At their welcoming ceremony, they made a circuit around the temple, where sermons were delivered calling for their safety and well-being, Myanma Ahlin reported.