Myanmar’s new government has vowed to pursue peaceful solutions to its decades-old conflicts with ethnic minority groups that have forced thousands to flee the country, a European commissioner said Sunday after an official trip. “The minister of border control strongly believes there must be peace, and it can only be achieved by fair treatment of ethnic minorities and by providing development opportunities for them,” said Kristalina Georgieva, European commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response.
During the two-day visit, Georgieva held talks in the capital Naypyidaw and Yangon with government representatives, including Border Affairs Minister Thein Htay, humanitarian groups and opposition leader Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest before being freed on November 13. It was Georgieva’s first official trip to Myanmar, a pariah state among Western nations because of its poor human rights record.
Access to aid
Georgieva’s visit was aimed at winning assurances of better access to humanitarian aid, finding better ways to boost preparedness against natural disasters and ending human rights abuses, especially against minority groups such as the Karen, who are reluctant to return to Myanmar for fear of persecution by the army that has been fighting the Karen National Union for six decades.
Cyclone Nargis left more than 140,000 people dead or missing in 2009
After twenty years of military rule, Myanmar now has an elected government, albeit one packed with former military men. The new government’s policy towards ethnic minority struggles has not yet been made clear, but Georgieva returned from her visit with an optimistic outlook. “They believe in a pull factor through development,” she said. “They believe that there needs to be peace and jobs and that after that, return will follow.”
“I was encouraged that the authorities are willing to expand humanitarian access to more areas of Burma/Myanmar,” she said in a statement released in Brussels. “I hope to see a tangible sign of this commitment soon, in the form of permissions for humanitarian experts to visit and work in areas of substantial need,” she added.
Devastating natural disasters
The EU’s executive arm, this year donating over 22 million euros of humanitarian and disaster relief, as well as aid to refugees in Thailand, needs “assurances that humanitarian agencies have full access to those who need relief,” she said.
Myanmar was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2009, leaving more than 140,000 people dead or missing, mostly in the Irrawaddy delta. The natural disaster sparked international outrage with Myanmar’s military rulers, who were reluctant to allow international aid workers in to help with disaster relief. “Nargis was a horrendous tragedy,” Georgieva said. “Very simple measures would have saved thousands of lives. It must not be repeated.”
Assistance in Southeast Asia
More than 250,000 people died in 11 nations after a devastating tsunami struck South Asia in 2004
Since 1995, the EU has given 103 million euros in humanitarian aid for 140,000 Karen refugees in camps along the Thai border. Over a million people benefit from assistance provided by the Commission, which supports basic health services, water and sanitation projects, food and nutrition assistance and relief to cyclone and earthquake survivors.
Meanwhile, the European Union and South-east Asia bloc on Monday agreed to strengthen cooperation in reducing disaster risk. “We live in the world where the frequency and intensity of disasters is on the increase,” said Georgieva in Jakarta after meeting with Indonesian officials and ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan. “We will work with ASEAN in building a stronger culture of understanding of risks.” Georgieva said the frequency of disasters had increased five times and the casualties up to 10 times since 1975. The Asia-Pacific region has suffered 91 per cent of the fatalities and 49 per cent of the damage caused by natural disasters in the past 30 years worldwide, she said.
Author: Sarah Berning (AFP, dpa)
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