A European Union envoy has announced a new €150 million aid package for Myanmar, and said if by-elections in April were free and fair, more sanctions were likely to be eased. Separately, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar is also visiting the country, stressing the need for sustainable and equitable development.
EU Commissioner Visit
European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs announced the two-year aid package during a visit to Myanmar.
Mr Piebalgs is the most senior EU official to meet President Thein Sein since the country's civilian administration took office in Myanmar after almost 50 years of army rule.
The EU's assistance will focus on health, education and basic infrastructure. It will also help people displaced by conflict and provide funding for agriculture, on which many of Myanmar's estimated 60 million people depend.
The EU's latest aid package is worth almost as much as the €173 million it has given Myanmar since 1996.
"There is concern (on the government side) that they've made reforms, they released political prisoners, they opened up, but the sanctions are still in place," Mr Piebalgs told reporters.
"Now it's very clear that the watershed is elections in April. If it goes as expected and is free and fair, then everyone would expect the easing of sanctions to continue."
He acknowledged that sanctions are definitely affecting growth and are painful for Myanmar's government because they impeded potential for foreign investment.
However, easing sanctions would take time, due to the complex process involved. "Suspending some measures, it needs consensus from 27 countries and that's not such an easy thing to achieve in the EU," he said.
Elections and Reform
Currently, Myanmar's parliament is dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), backed by the military. The military also directly appoints some members of parliament.
But by-elections on April 1 should see more opposition members voted in, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The president mentioned a lot about Aung San Suu Kyi and it was all positive. That was unexpected," Mr Piebalgs said.
"He said she was extremely important in the country and her participation in the political process was crucial. That's a very positive sign."
Mr Piebalgs will meet Ms Suu Kyi at her home on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mr Piebalgs told house speaker Thura Shwe Mann it was important that parliament became an active player in the reform process.
Mr Shwe Mann, number three in the former junta and a pivotal figure in the new administration, said he would be happy to see Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in parliament.
"We have established a parliament, taking the necessary actions for democracy to thrive in Myanmar. The NLD and other parties, if they win in the by-elections, they can be in parliament. We will welcome them," Mr Shwe Mann said.
The EU and United States have stressed that the freeing of political prisoners is a crucial step. Mr Shwe Mann suggested there could be further amnesties after an official review, though he noted that prisoners who have been involved in terrorist activities or harmed the public will not be included.
Sustainable Development in Myanmar
Separately, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar arrived in the country on Monday for a five-day visit.
“Since the launch of the reform agenda, we have seen progress in various areas,” Special Adviser Nambiar told participants at a conference in Naypyitaw.
“The challenges ahead are many and complex. The reform agenda might be ambitious, but it is achievable,” he said, adding that participation, partnerships and solidarity – not only between Myanmar’s various sectors but also with other countries – would be key factors for success.
Mr. Nambiar also stressed the importance of Myanmar focusing on achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as implementing measures that facilitate sustainable development in the country.
“Development is not sustainable unless it is equitable. In Myanmar, this entails equal access for all peoples in both central and border regions,” he said. “Investment in development is also the best prevention against social strife. Both State and society therefore have a stake in improving living standards as necessary conditions for the country’s unity and progress."
Report: EU announces $200m Burma infrastructure package [BBC, 13 Feb 2012]
Report: Myanmar by-elections vital for EU sanctions move: official [Reuters, 13 Feb 2012]
Report: Arriving in Myanmar, UN envoy focuses on sustainable development [UN News Centre, 13 Feb 2012]