News / Asia

EU Commissioner Optimistic about Burma Reforms

Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid
Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid

The top European Union aid official says Burma’s government is pledging increased international access for humanitarian workers during natural disasters. E.U. officials say they are optimistic about reforms by Burma's new government.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian aid Kristalina Georgieva says she is "encouraged" by Burma's pledges to give humanitarian workers greater access to troubled areas.

Georgieva spoke to journalists in Bangkok following a two-day official visit to Burma.  She said she was “very positive” that it is possible to avoid the chaos and destruction that had come in the wake of cyclone Nargis in 2008.

“My impression from discussions with the minister for resettlement and social welfare who is also the chair of the disaster preparedness ministerial group, is that there is a recognition of the need to be on high alert; that experience form other countries is very valuable," said Georgieva. "In this sense Nargis was a wake-up call.”

Cyclone Nargis left more than 140,000 dead and missing after hitting the Irrawaddy Delta region.  The then-military government faced international condemnation over delays to assistance that aid groups says cost thousands of lives.

In addition to meeting government officials in Rangoon, the E.U. minister met with Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Georgieva said Suu Kyi was positive over her new role in the country since her release from house arrest in November last year.  Suu Kyi had spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest.

Georgieva and E.U. officials expressed optimism of signs of reform, with Burmese government members “genuinely” seeking change. But challenges remain, she said.

“We know that there are now agents for change.  There are people who are genuinely reform minded they want to see the country included.  But we also know that there are many who don’t want this to happen that divested interests that are going to be affected by change.  So therefore how this power struggle would go will be to watch in the months to come,” Georgieva stated.

Georgieva, while not commenting directly on Burma's holding of more than 2,000 political prisoners, said the International Committee of the Red Cross was again granted limited access to three of Burma’s prisons.  The ICRC’s access to prisons and camps had come to a halt amid increasing official restrictions in 2006.

E.U. officials also said Burma's government pledged to pursue peaceful ends to conflicts with ethnic minorities and their insurgent armies, offering talks within months.

In April, the European Union eased some sanctions in place due to Burma's human-rights record to enable the current dialogue.  

The European Union now allows ministerial visits to Burma and modified visa restrictions that open the way for civilian members of Burma’s parliament to travel to Europe.

The visit by Georgieva comes as Derek Mitchell, the U.S. Special representative and policy coordinator for Burma is currently meeting officials in Naypyittaw, political party members and local civil society organizations.

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