EU pledges €35m in aid to Burma

Oct 21, 2009 (DVB), The European Union is set to channel €35 million to non-governmental organisations in Burma in what appears to signal a shift towards greater engagement with the country.

The pledge coincides with a visit to Burma by Sweden's ambassador to Thailand, Lennart Linner, and EU regional ambassador David Lipman.

Speaking to DVB today, Suvi Seppalainen, press officer for Lipman, said that the five-day visit was linked to the aid pledge, but that the trip also had "a political aspect" to it.

She said that Lipman "held meetings with various stakeholders" and discussed future EU policy to Burma.

"The EU is considering opening up dialogue with Burmese officials so it was partly a fact-finding mission," she said.

Burma's state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper reported today that both Lipman and Linner met with the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

According to the article, the USDA secretary general, Htay Oo, "explained about the USDA, its engagement in national and rural development work and about the genuine situation in Burma".

Harn Yawnghwe, from the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office, said that the EU "is making diplomatic moves to meet with everyone in the country, and possibly the [government]."

He added however that the meeting with the USDA was unlikely to be constructive, but just "a formality".

The EU money will go to the new Livelihoods and Food Security Trust (LIFT) fund, which is then set to channel the money through various non-governmental organizations (NGOs). EU policy dictates that aid cannot go straight to the Burmese government.

Seppalainen said that the EU would be "putting out adverts and announcements in the public sphere [in Burma] and inviting NGOs to come forward".

Following the extension of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest in August, the EU expanded its sanctions on Burma to include members of the judiciary responsible for Suu Kyi's sentencing.

The bloc has been criticized however for not including a ban on oil and gas companies operating in Burma.

French oil giant Total was accused last month by environmental group EarthRights International (ERI) of contributing billions of dollars to the Burmese junta from its involvement in the Yadana gas project.

The French foreign minister said in October that sanctions were "useless" and advocated direct engagement with the regime.

The EU has however provided more than half of all post-cyclone Nargis recovery funding channeled into Burma since May last year.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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