Finnish Nobel Peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari on Friday said he believed Myanmar’s reformist government could win the Nobel Peace Prize, as Helsinki announced 6.5 million euros (US$8.4 million) in development aid to the country.
Ahtisaari met in Helsinki with reformist Burmese President Thein Sein during his landmark 10-day visit to Europe aimed at forging stronger political and economic ties between the former pariah state and the West.
The former Finnish president said he believed Myanmar’s government was a “serious candidate” for the Nobel peace award if the democratic transition it had undertaken was completed.
Ahtisaari himself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his role as a mediator in several international conflicts.
Under Thein Sein, the Myanmar government had been able to “get results faster than, for example, an interim government” would have, he said.
He urged Thein Sein to continue efforts to transform the country, saying change could only come from within.
Also on Friday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe announced a 6.5 million euro aid package after meeting the Myanmar leader.
“Finland is willing to reach out” to Myanmar, Niinistoe said at a joint press conference with the former general.
The aid would be distributed between next year and 2016, a Finnish diplomatic source said.
“Steps have been taken to improve human rights,” Niinistoe said of the reforms that have prompted the EU to suspend all sanctions apart from an arms embargo.
The US has also dismantled key trade and investment sanctions against the Southeast Asian country.
Speaking on the economy, Thein Sein invited Finnish entrepreneurs to “work together with Myanmar in order to strengthen investment.”
Thein Sein will also try to reap the fruits of his liberalization policies as he visits Austria, Belgium and Italy before returning home on Friday.
He started his trip in Norway earlier this week, following Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s own milestone visit to the country last year, where she was finally able to accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in person after spending years under house arrest.
Meanwhile, Thein Sein says the country’s military is likely to retain its quota of seats in Parliament through the next election in 2015.
During a visit to Finland on Friday, Thein Sein said that the military has a role in shaping the country’s future and is not likely to lose its allotment of 25 percent of the seats just yet.
Thein Sein said through an interpreter that “there will likely be a gradual decrease [of military power in Parliament], but I cannot ensure that this could happen before 2015 elections.”