Since 1991, when Burma’s democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, Norway has led the international community in its concerted support for the Burmese democracy movement.
When President Thein Sein launched his reform process in 2011, Norway was one of the first to embrace the new changes in the former pariah state. Norway pared back unilateral sanctions in late 2012, paving the way for heavy investment from Norwegian majority state-owned firms Statoil and Telenor.
DVB Interview International’s Khin Maung Win spoke to Anniken Huitfeldt, chair of Norway’s Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defence, during her recent visit to Burma.
When asked about her general impressions of Burma in 2014, Huitfeldt highlighted the release of political prisoners, more freedom of movement and greater freedom of the press as indicative of a changing country.
“There is a strong pressure for further reforms,” Huitfeldt added. “And my view on this visit is to express that these changes must continue in order to develop a democracy.”
DVB asked Huitfeldt if she was aware of backslides on press freedom in 2014, particularly the recent sentencing of five journalists from Unity Weekly to ten years in prison with hard labour.
“We had a meeting about the press situation in Myanmar before we came down [to Burma], so we are aware of the situation, and we have been talking about the importance of a free press in building a new democracy because it is crucial to always have these critical voices in a society.”
Huitfeldt said it was an honour to meet Suu Kyi.
“She is an icon in Norway since she got the Nobel Peace Prize.”
In light of a recent meeting between the Norwegian delegation and Burma’s ministry of Defence, DVB asked whether Norway intended to follow in the footsteps of the United Kingdom and the United States by committing to training programmes with Burmese police and military figures.
“We had a very fruitful discussion on the military’s role in transforming this society, that was the focus of discussions,” she said.
“If you look upon other transformation processes, there are always some people who are in favour of changes and others who want to resist changes. Today my role was to express a strong support for further changes in this society.”
DVB asked Huitfeldt about her view of the current peace process, considering Norway’s long history of support for the Burmese democracy movement.
“I do support the government when it comes to this,” she said. “Speaking on behalf of the [Norwegian] Labour party, we do support the government.”
DVB asked whether Huitfeldt had a special message for the people of Burma.
“We have had cooperation with the opposition [movement in Burma] for years,” she said, “and we feel a commitment to continue this peace process. There will be obstacles, but we need to move forward.”