Business urged to go back to Burma

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Except now it seems more politically correct and common to call the country Myanmar, a sign of recognition of the country’s military leaders who are lifting years of oppression. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, just back from a trip to the US, plans to return himself soon, after lifting Norway’s own sanctions against  Myanmar over the weekend.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was in Washington DC last week and met with US Secretary State Hillary Clinton, who also welcomes the changes in what's now being called Myanmar. PHOTO: Siri H. Hollekim Haaland / Ambassaden i Washington

Støre said the Norwegian government was cancelling its earlier calls for Norwegian companies not to do business or invest in Myanmar. Norway will still follow the European Union’s sanctions against the country, which restrict trade with state-controlled companies.

Those sanctions look likely to fall soon, too, though, probably this spring. Støre said the Norwegian government’s decision to lift its “strong advice” against doing business in Myanmar is in recognition of the reforms being announced and carried out by Myanmar’s own leaders.

“Many political prisoners have now been freed and there have been important steps taken towards reconciliation and democracy,” Støre said. News broke late last week that government authorities in Myanmar also had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Karen people, to end a lengthy civil war in the country country.

Norway’s policy change, Støre said, “is a signal to the authorities in Myanmar that the reforms are positive.”

Støre stressed that the country needs trade and investment. PHOTO: UD/Trond Viken

Støre added that the country needs investment and trade to create jobs, development and reduce poverty. “Better standards of living will also mobilize further democratic development,” Støre said. He was in Washington DC last week where he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also has announced that the US will soon send a new ambassador to Myanmar and strongly supports the democratic developments in the country.

Norway has followed Burma/Myanmar closely, not least since Aung San Suu Kyi was denied her election victory more than 20 years ago and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to instill democracy and human rights in Burma. She has since been released from prison, too, and likely to take part in upcoming elections this spring.

Several government ministers and state secretaries have been making trips to Burma, which they now call Myanmar. Erik Solheim, the government minister in charge of foreign aid and development has been there twice in the past year, most recently in October when he once again met with Aung San Suu Kyi, who still commands great respect among the local population.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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