EU to begin political dialogue with Burma

Dec 4, 2009 (AFP), The European Union will begin "sustained political dialogue" with Burma following the thawing of relations between the junta-led nation and the US, the regional bloc’s ambassador said Thursday.

Ambassador David Lipman spoke to reporters in Burma’s main city Rangoon after meeting with the country’s leader Senior General Than Shwe to obtain diplomatic credentials in the remote capital Naypyidaw a day earlier.

"We had a good discussion about future relations between the European Union and Myanmar [Burma] and we are looking forward," Lipman said of the 30-minute meeting.

"I think the government would like to engage with the European Union. They are already engaging with the United States," he said.

Last month US president Barack Obama signalled a new approach with Burma when he met Prime Minister Thein Sein along with other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore.

The US and EU have sanctions against Burma because of its human rights record and detention of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Lipman said future engagement would follow three tracks , general humanitarian assistance, the giving of financial aid through non-government organisations, and now political discussion.

"At the moment, we are working on the third track which is for political dialogue. The third track is now very much in the process of moving forwards," he said.

Lipman said EU officials hope to begin talks with Burma’s foreign minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of a climate change conference that begins on Monday in Copenhagen.

Burma's officials said they could not immediately confirm Nyan Win’s attendance.

"We hope to begin our dialogue by meeting with the foreign minister at the climate change conference. So that will be the next step where we will start a sustained political dialogue with the government," said Lipman.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962. The 64-year-old pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi has spent most of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her National League for Democracy party won elections in 1990 but the junta never allowed them to take office.

Burma’s leaders have promised to hold polls next year as part of their seven-step "Road to Democracy".

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