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EU envoy

November 17, 2010

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been very active since her recent release from house arrest. Deutsche Welle spoke to the EU's special envoy for Myanmar, Piero Fassino.

EU special envoy Piero Fassino says the international community should keep Myanmar as a priority
Myanmar should remain high on the world's political agenda, Fassino saysImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Deutsche Welle: Myanmar's military government released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after more than 15 years of detention. How does the European Union consider this move?

Piero Fassino: The most important thing, for her family and her people, is that Aung San Suu Kyi is finally free. What is also important is that she is enabled to come back to politics now, as Myanmar is in a crucial and delicate phase. Elections have been held and a new Parliament elected. The new Parliament will start working next February. This will lead to a new civilian government, which should take over power from the military junta. Therefore, it could be the beginning of a period of political and institutional change and it is essential that Suu Kyi can participate as a major player in this new political phase.

The recent elections were one step towards what the military rulers call "disciplined democracy." Does the European Union consider these elections to be truly democratic?

Elections were held in a context that was strongly controlled and conditioned by the regime, according to dubious electoral laws and regulations, certainly not in line with European and international accepted standards.

However, it needs also to be noted that during the electoral campaign civil society and opposition forces proved significantly lively. It is also relevant that, notwithstanding all the existing obstacles, opposition parties registered for the elections.

Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi giving a speech
Icon Suu Kyi has promised to look into poll irregularitiesImage: AP

It will be very important to see the results. Depending on how many elected representatives from the opposition forces and ethnic groups win seats in the local and national parliaments, we will be able to give a more complete evaluation of these elections.

Burma is a very multiethnic society. What position does the EU have about the ethnic minorities' struggle for more autonomy?

The European Union condemns any form of hostility and oppression against ethnic minorities. In the framework of the current political transition, ethnic communities need to be fully associated to, and become part of, the political process.

One of the essential issues to be dealt with in the context of the transition is precisely how to ensure the respect of the rights of the minorities, their autonomy and the possibility to participate in the life of the country without restraints.

Have the elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi opened up a chance for a transformation process?

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is a first step. Now more steps into the right direction are needed: the release of all political detainees and the opening of a true, meaningful dialogue between the junta, the democratic opposition and the representatives of the ethnic minorities.

In her first public speech after her release, Aung San Suu Kyi explicitly urged the authorities to start a dialogue and expressed her availability to take up responsibilities in the management of the transition. Such a dialogue has to be free, honest and needs to aim at a definitive democratic transition allowing Myanmar to reach those standards of freedom and democracy which are the mark of all free nations.

How will the EU press the government of Myanmar towards a more pluralistic system?

We should not take anything for granted. We certainly hope that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi can open a door, and it is for this reason that we are asking, after her release, for more meaningful acts, clearly showing the will of the authorities for a democratic transition.

Devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis
Fassino calls for more aid for cyclone-devastated areasImage: AP

The international community must keep Myanmar as a priority on its political agenda and must accompany and assist the democratic transition. Therefore, we need a policy aimed at increasing our relations with Myanmar.

We must increase humanitarian assistance particularly in those areas devastated by the Nargis typhoon, where reconstruction and rehabilitation is needed. We must increase development aid in vital sectors for the Burmese people, such as water, education, health and assistance to children. We must also help civil society to structure itself and accompany Myanmar in building up the democratic institutions that it has never had so far.

Interview: Ana Lehman
Editor: Anne Thomas