Myanmar president Thein Sein's historical visit to the White House has sparked a wave of criticism by human rights activists who accused the Burmese government of human rights abuses in the recent spate of anti-Muslim violence.

The former general will be the first Myanmar president to be welcomed by a US president in 47 years. His name was removed from a blacklist banning travel to the US in September 2012.

Washington said that Thein Sein's visit "underscores President Obama's commitment to supporting and assisting those governments that make the important decision to embrace reform". The US announced it will consider a duty-free access for Myanmar to US markets. Talks will be held on a bilateral trade and investment framework.

Thein Sein has implemented a raft of reforms since becoming civilian president in 2011, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and allowing Aung San Suu Kyi and her party enter parliament.

However, critics point at the government's culpability in the recent anti-Muslim clashes and claim US authorities were too quick and short-sighted to concede an official visit to Thein Sein.

A new report by New York-based Human Rights Watch blamed Burmese authorities and members of Arakanese groups for "crimes against humanity" in a campaign decried as "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state.

More than 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced as a result of violence encouraged, organised and carried out by Burmese officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks with the placid consent of security forces according to the report, based on more than 100 interviews carried out during 2012.

The report came as the EU decided to lift sanctions - including the freezing of assets of more than 1,000 Burmese companies, travel restrictions and ban on EU investment in much area - imposed on Burma.

The US campaign for Burma said the US should have boycotted the relaxation of relationship with Burma as a way to lobby for the condition of Rohingya in the country.

"President Obama is sending the message that crimes against humanity by state forces against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma will be ignored by his administration," Jennifer Quigley, the group's executive director, told France 24.

Just hours before Thein Sein left for the US, 23 prisoners, 19 of whom were political, have been released in Myanmar, prompting allegations that the president was using political prisoner releases as a PR tool.

"The release of any political prisoner is welcome, but two years after the reform process began, people should be asking why there are still hundreds of political prisoners still in jail," said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. "These releases are blatantly designed to get good publicity ahead of Thein Sein's visit to the USA. It is disgraceful to use political prisoners for public relations like this."