Monday, December 11, 2023
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Norway companies ‘readying for Burma’: FM

Norway’s foreign minister will head to Burma soon to continue to push for reform in the country, and says the changing landscape there could turn looming Norwegian investment into a constructive force that can integrate Burma into the global economy.

The government in Norway announced last week that it would drop sanctions on Burma, although it continues to align itself with remaining EU sanctions on the country. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told DVB in an interview that the country would now push for “normal relations” with Naypyidaw.

This will include “investment, jobs, welfare … [and] integration of Myanmar [Burma] into the international economy,” he said, adding that “Norwegian companies should start preparing for that”.

The decision last week makes Norway the first western country to individually drop sanctions on Burma, a move that has drawn accusations that Oslo has responded prematurely to developments in the country – ironically, it was also one of the first states to open its doors to Burmese refugees, and awarded Aung San Suu Kyi the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

But throughout the years in which it supported the pro-democracy movement, Norway came under fire from campaigners who alleged that its state-owned investment body, the Norwegian Pension Fund, held shares in energy companies operating in Burma,  including Total and Chevron, and had invested up to $US5 billion in the country’s oil and gas sectors.

Støre said that Norwegian officials would soon hold a roundtable on responsible investment in the country. He believes that Burma, which has long relied on close ties with China and other neighbouring countries to keep its economy afloat, needed “free and fair” investment from a range of players, and expressed hope that a review of EU sanctions in Burma would be followed by a normalisation of Burma’s relations with member states.

The government under President Thein Sein has moved to break with the Machiavellian policies of past regimes in a bid to convince the EU and US that the time is ripe to drop punitive economic measures. Reforms have included the passing of a law permitting peaceful protest, and a decision to allow Suu Kyi to compete in April by-elections.

Støre said it is important that these development are not reversed, particularly the progress made in brokering ceasefires with ethnic armies.

“[After the ceasefire agreement] you enter into a very fragile phase of anchoring that ceasefire into something that can be [the] end of conflict – but [the] end of conflict is the beginning of something very difficult, which is development, participation, social programmes, welfare programmes.

“Many experiences show us that the ceasefire may not be the most difficult thing, but to make development work in an equitable and fair way and to have justice prevail, that is the complicated part.”

Norway acted as a mediator in negotiations that brought to an end a lengthy civil war in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group. Could it play the same role in Burma?

“If the [armed] groups and government can benefit from third party assistance then I think we would be ready to consider that,” he said, cautioning however that Norway would not “impose ourselves on a situation like that”.


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