Thu, Jul 18, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Burmese, French presidents to meet


Burmese President Thein Sein was to meet French President Francois Hollande in Paris yesterday as rights campaigners reacted skeptically to his promise to free all political prisoners.

The former general, fresh from a three-day trip to London, is in Europe to build on support for introducing much-lauded reforms in the former pariah state.

During his first official visit to Britain, Thein Sein on Monday promised that all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar would be freed by the end of the year.

He also voiced optimism about ending decades of conflict that have raged between the government and more than a dozen ethnic groups since independence from Britain in 1948.

However, activists in Myanmar have called for actions not words from Thein Sein, accusing the former junta premier of using headline-grabbing amnesties to secure foreign aid and investment.

Thein Sein was due to have lunch with French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault before meeting Hollande at the Elysee Palace later on Wednesday.

“The president will express our desire that the process of transition continues, speeds up and that the liberation of political prisoners comes about as quickly as possible,” an Elysee spokesman said.

The resumption of visits by Red Cross officials to the country’s prisons was a promising development, the spokesman added.

He said France remained concerned about ongoing communal violence.

Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the western state of Rakhine last year left about 200 people dead, mostly Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship by Myanmar.

Further clashes have erupted in recent months.

A number of leading rights groups — including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Reporters Without Borders — urged Hollande in a joint letter to press Thein Sein on the human rights situation in his country.

“France must not let itself be guided solely by economic interests as major French businesses such as Vinci Bouygues, Total, and Orange are in the process of negotiating contracts in Myanmar,” they wrote.

Trade between France and Myanmar remains at a modest level, with one diplomatic source putting the figure at 18 million euros (US$24 million) a year.

French Minister of Foreign Trade Nicole Bricq is scheduled to visit Myanmar later this month. French Development Minister Pascal Canfin traveled to the country in March.

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