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Australian foreign minister arrives in Burma

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is in Burma for a three-day visit to meet senior leaders in the country's government and political reformers including opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who he will meet on Wednesday in Rangoon. He has signaled he might extend an invitation to  Suu Kyi to visit Australia.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bob CarrCarr will fly to Naypyitaw on Thursday. He said Australia was enormously encouraged by the democratic transition under way in Burma, and he is expected to announce several aid programs to support human rights and peace-building initiatives during his visit.

An article in the Brisbane Times on Wednesday noted that Carr has made a symbolic gesture to Burma in apparent recognition of political reforms, bestowing the name "Myanmar" on the eve of his visit to the country. The ancient name, adopted in the modern era by the former military junta, has long been a sore point, with democracy advocates insisting that "Burma" be used.

In 2010, Australian aid was increased to around $50 million a year, making Australia at that time the second largest bilateral aid donor.

Australia cut its personal sanctions list from 392 names to 126, and in the coming financial year is raising aid to Burma by 30 per cent to $63.8 million, according to an article on Wednesday in The Sydney Morning Herald.

“I am confident all figures in the government would want to avoid the risk of a revival of sanctions were there to be a retreat from the brave reform program of President Thein Sein,” Carr said.

“We've got the opportunity to fine tune our most recent decision on sanctions, and I'll be making a decision after I talk to people in the government and people in the opposition.”

Of late, Burmese government officials have undertook a series of sweeping reforms.

“There's a sense of urgency among government people, a real keenness to do stuff," said Sid Myer, the chairman of Melbourne University's Asialink institute who led a delegation of Australian banking, legal and information technology professionals to Burma last month.

"There's a realization that there's a general election in 2015 and in order for this government to have any chance of maintaining its position it has to make real progress on pressing issues."

Prior to his trip, Carr wrote on his blog: “We have already recognized reform by easing our sanctions and normalizing our approach to trade and investment. But there is more we can do, including through expanding our development assistance, to help ensure reforms in Myanmar are sustained.”

He will also meet ethnic community leaders and members of the 88-Generation student movement, many of who are former political prisoners released earlier this year.

“There is now a better chance for sustained democratic reform in Myanmar than there has been for over half a century,” he said.

“During my visit, I look forward to announcing further Australian initiatives, including in relation to our aid program, support for human rights and peace-building. Sustainable political and economic reforms will improve the prospects of the people of Myanmar and allow Myanmar to fulfill its considerable potential in the region and globally,” Carr said.

In March 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard designated Carr as Australia’s foreign minister.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 June 2012 12:04 )  

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