Sunday, 17 November 2019

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EU diplomats’ fact-finding mission extends to USDA

New Delhi (Mizzima) – As part of its fact-finding mission, European Union diplomats last week met the Chairman of Burma’s military junta-backed civilian outfit, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

Diplomatic sources as well as the junta’s mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Wednesday said the Swedish Ambassador to Thailand Lennart Linner along with European diplomats based in Rangoon and Bangkok on October 16 met USDA, General Secretary Htay Oo.

“Htay Oo explained to them about USDA and its state and rural development work. He also discussed with them the issue related to the present political condition in the country,” the paper said.

While the Swedish embassy in Bangkok refused to comment on the meeting, David Lipman, the EU regional ambassador, who returned from a five-day visit to Burma told journalists in Bangkok on Tuesday that he had detected a new mood among the Generals.

“I think the government is being a lot more cooperative than in the past. They are basically engaged,” reports quoted Lipman as saying.

Earlier on October 14, the EU delegation visited Burma’s opposition party headquarters in Rangoon’s Shwegondine Street and met National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee members.

During the meeting, the delegation asked the NLD about its stand on the junta’s planned 2010 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s cooperation and fact finding on sanctions, and whether the party is demanding a power-sharing arrangement by asking the junta to revise its 2008 constitution.

Khin Maung Swe, a CEC member of the NLD, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima that the NLD is willing to work in harmony with the international community and it does look for power but demands a revision of the 2008 constitution to a constitution that reflects the will of the people and guarantees the rights and equality of all Burmese citizens.

However, Win Min, a Thailand-based Burmese analyst on Wednesday, said the European Union delegations’ meeting with the USDA, a group widely known as the junta’s puppet organisation, could be a compromise between the junta and the EU diplomats, who were also allowed to meet the NLD.

“Apparently it is a kind of ‘give and take’ between the regime and the EU,” Win Min said.

“The regime wanted them to meet the USDA when they [EU diplomats] approached them for permission to meet NLD members,” he added.

The USDA, formed in 1993, is proclaimed by the ruling junta as the largest civilian organisation in the country having about 24 million members across the country. Burmese military junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe is a patron of the organization.

Observers said the USDA seems to be preparing to run for office in the forthcoming 2010 elections, but said it is still not clear whether the group will transform into a political party or will float a separate party.

“It seems that EU diplomats also wanted to know the USDA’s position on the 2010 election,” Win Min said.

Since the United States in September announced its new policy of engaging the military junta, while maintaining the existing sanctions, the European Union said it is conducting a fact finding mission to analyse its position on Burma and in order to help the Southeast Asian nation into a smooth transition that will be inclusive, the EU diplomats told NLD leaders during their meeting.

Earlier in April, EU renewed its sanctions on the Burmese military junta, which was first imposed in 1996.

However, the London-based Burma Campaign UK had earlier said members of the EU had long been divided over sanctions, with several countries including Germany not favouring sanctions, while British led other groups wanting to follow the US path of sanctions.

Despite the disagreement, EU stepped up its sanctions by adding to the list of targeted sanctions the members of the judiciary responsible for sentencing pro-democracy leader Aung San SUu Kyi on August 11.

However, EU has left a channel open for providing humanitarian assistance to Burma. On Tuesday, the EU announced that it will provide €35m as the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust fund (LIFT) for humanitarian assistance to Burma.

“I think the fund apparently will go for relief work in the delta region and other areas of the country,” a western diplomat based in Rangoon told Mizzima.

“This time we tried to cover the whole area in the country,” he added.


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