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EU, Burma Hold Unprecedented Meeting in Kyoto

Benita Ferrero-Waldner (l) and Japan's Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura
Diplomats attending an Asian-European meeting of foreign ministers in Japan say there was no immediate result from an unprecedented meeting between the European Union and Burma. But the fact the meeting was even held is being called a significant development.

The European Union has held its first ministerial-level talks with the military regime that rules Burma.

The Friday meeting came on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe talks in Kyoto. The Europeans say they told Foreign Minister Nyan Win that Burma has to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and improve its human rights record before the EU will consider lifting its targeted sanctions against the country.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, tells VOA News that the two sides had a frank discussion, which is an accomplishment in itself.

"The fact, per se, that this meeting took place and that the [Burmese] foreign minister, this time, came to listen to us and we could put our message across, was already, I think, a step forward," said Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "I think it was good the foreign minister listened and answered, I would say, in a constructive manner."

A spokesman for a Burmese pro-democracy group welcomed the talks, saying the meeting would advance the democratic process in the country.

A small group of supporters of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi demonstrated along the road to the conference hall, shouting slogans against the military junta.

The European Union, like the United States, has been a long-time critic of Burma for its failure to introduce democratic reforms and its poor record on human rights.

The EU last year stepped up sanctions against Burma. The decision to engage in dialogue in Kyoto is seen as a shift in policy by both Brussels and Rangoon.

The two-day gathering of foreign ministers from Asia and Europe, being held in the ancient Japanese capital, is also discussing the North Korean nuclear crisis, rising world oil prices and other issues of mutual concern.