Ashton visits Myanmar to open new EU office | News | DW | 28.04.2012
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Ashton visits Myanmar to open new EU office

Catherine Ashton is the highest EU official to visit Myanmar since the lifting of sanctions. She is there to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to open a diplomatic office there.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, became the highest-level EU official to visit Myanmar since the lifting of EU sanctions. Ahead of her trip, she hailed a "new chapter" in the bloc's relations with Myanmar.

Ashton first met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party is refusing to take their seats in parliament due to objections about the oath they must take beforehand.

"This is a process of change," Ashton said when asked about the impasse in a press conference. "I hope that we will see all the elements come into place to make it an irreversible process that can move forward."

Still, Ashton was optimistic that the recent suspension of EU sanctions against Myanmar would spur economic partnerships between the two countries.

"We recognise this is a journey that's not finished," she said. "There's been a lot of interest from the business community, and rightly so."

Suspending the sanctions was meant to allow aid and investment to flow into the impoverished country, but was also a gesture recognizing the progress of the government for its political reforms. The EU reserved the right to reinstate the reforms if necessary.

Ashton is set to open an EU office during her trip. It will be the bloc's first diplomatic presence in Myanmar. Diplomats have said the office's role will mostly be to oversee the management of aid programs.

Ashton is scheduled to remain in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, until Monday, and has talks scheduled with President Thein Sein and other politicians.

mz/sb (AFP, Reuters)