Myanmar climbers reach Everest summit in country first

20 May 2016
Myanmar climbers reach Everest summit in country first
A handout picture provided by Technical Climbing Club of Myanmar (TCCM) on 19 May 2016 shows Myanmar mountaineers and Sherpas on their way to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Nepal, 01 May 2016. Myanmar mountaineers Pyae Phyo Aung and Win Ko Ko on 19 May 2016 summited Mount Everest as the first Myanmar team ever. Photo: Nyi Nyi Aung/TCCM/EPA

Two Myanmar mountaineers reached the summit of Mount Everest, their climbing team said Thursday, hailing them as the first from their impoverished Southeast Asian nation to scale the world's highest peak.
The ascent is a milestone for a nation that until its recent democratic transformation was largely closed to the outside world, with few overseas travel opportunities for citizens.
The mountaineers, PyaePhyo Aung and Win KoKo, planted a Myanmar flag on Everest's peak after climbing overnight to reach the top early Thursday, according to their expedition website, in a trip sponsored by one of Myanmar's top junta-era cronies.
"We reached the top at 7:07 this morning," said one of the men in a crackly audio file in which he was congratulated by TayZa, a controversial Myanmar tycoon who has a famed passion for mountaineering.
Photos showed a smiling Win KoKo with his arm around his climbing partners under crisp blue skies as they ascended the snow-covered mountain.  
The pair are the latest in a string of climbers to scale the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) high Himalayan peak as mountaineers return to Everest after a deadly earthquake ended last year's climbing season.
In a message to AFP, their climbing companion NyiNyi Aung, of the Technical Climbing Club of Myanmar, said the men were well and on their way back down.
"These two Myanmar mountaineers are really strong climbers and they were the very first (from their country) to reach the top. It is really impressive," said NyiNyi Aung from base camp, where he was forced to remain because of health problems.
The ascent took 15 hours, he added. 
TayZa, whose Htoo empire remains subject to United States sanctions and spans everything from teak logs to an airline, is a keen climber and narrowly survived a helicopter crash in Myanmar's tip of the Himalayas in 2011.
But climbing remains something of a nascent hobby in the country even though it boasts multiple mountain ranges.
Hundreds of climbers abandoned the mountain last year after an earthquake-triggered avalanche at Everest base camp killed 18 people.
Only one climber summitted the mountain in 2014 after an avalanche killed 16 Nepali guides, but this year Nepal issued 289 permits for the brief spring climbing season from mid-April to the end of May.
Last week, British mountaineers Kenton Cool and Robert Lucas became this year's first foreigners to reach the summit, a day after nine Nepalis scaled the peak while fixing ropes for international climbers.