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The Norwegian state secretary currently in Burma for high-level talks has said that the country remains “one of the world’s most controversial…in the eyes of the international community”.
Gry Larsen, who backs international engagement with the ruling junta, said in an article on 6 April prior to arriving in Burma that the international community should also “examine carefully” whether current policy to Burma “has in fact promoted greater openness and economic and democratic development”.
The Norwegian government has been an open supporter, both financially and vocally, of Burma’s pro-democracy movement, and is one of the leading funders for exiled media and rights groups.
It was also one of the first country’s to open its borders to Burmese asylum seekers who fled the country following the infamous 1988 uprising.
Larsen’s trip is a rare one for a representative of a country that openly supports Burmese opposition groups – the majority of foreign dignitaries that visit Burma are from the handful of countries still allied with the ruling regime.
Observers have said however that the apparent relaxing of restrictions on visits by overseas envoys, notably the two senior-level US delegations that visited Burma last year, could be an show of legitimacy by the junta in the run-up to elections this year.
During Larsen’s meetings with government officials and pro-democracy representatives, Larsen said that she “will focus on the opportunities for addressing poverty and increasing wealth”. However she echoed condemnation by world leaders of the elections this year but added that Burma would be embraced by the international community if the junta moves “in the right direction”.
“The Burmese authorities are at a crossroads. If they choose the way to democracy and growth, the international community will strengthen its political and economic cooperation with the country,” she said.
“Burma will in all likelihood continue to be rich, poor and controversial. But it is within the country that its future will be decided. And the international community cannot refrain from engaging directly with those who are in the driving seat.”
The US has recently expressed its anguish at the lack of progress made by the junta since Washington in September last year ditched its long-running isolation of Burma in favour of engagement.
Since September, the junta has locked up a US citizen on spurious charges, rejected several legal appeals to release Aung San Suu Kyi, and announced highly controversial election laws.
But it has said that it will continue dialogue with the ruling generals following two decades of disengagement that reaped few rewards.