E.U. holds aid meeting on Myanmar, denies charges of softer line

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

The European Commission on Tuesday rejected charges it was softening its stance on dealing with
the military junta in Myanmar as officials convened a meeting of international aid experts to discuss
stepped-up assistance to the country.

As human rights activists protested against the gathering, Commission officials said the European
Union was anxious to ease the economic and social suffering of the people of Myanmar and wanted
expert information on how best to achieve its goals.

"The focus of Burma Day 2005 is on the possibilities of providing assistance to the people of Burma,
not on the European Union's long-standing policy of sanctions against the military regime,"
a Commission spokeswoman told dpa.

"There is no softening of the E.U. line on Burma/Myanmar...no shift in policy," the spokeswoman

The meeting follows a decision by E.U. governments last October to toughen sanctions against
Yangon but to back up the stricter line by promising more aid to the people of the country.

The 25-nation bloc said it wanted to fund projects designed to improve human rights as well as
education and health facilities in the country.

It added that while such schemes would be implemented by United Nations agencies and
non-governmental organisations, the bloc would also "engage with the government of Burma"
over its development responsibilities.

The E.U. executive, however, distanced itself from a controversial report prepared for
the Burma Day meeting, saying that while the study was a good basis for discussion,
it did not reflect Commission policy.

Written by Robert Taylor and Morten Pederson, the report has angered Burmese opposition
groups and human rights activists by calling for a review of E.U. policies on Mynamar.

The study says Brussels should call the country Myanmar instead of Burma, resume regular
high-level visits to Yangon and revise its strategic objectives in the country.

"The military will remain in power into the indefinite future and any transition, including
important governance and economic reforms, will have to be negotiated and implemented
in cooperation with the officer corps," the report said.

Critics slammed both the report and the Commission initiative to organise the aid meeting
as a sign of a change in E.U. policy towards Myanmar.

European Parliament member Glenys Kinnock denounced the report's "crass and unacceptable
proposals to engage with the military junta."

Kinnock said she was especially dismayed that "a small and unrepresentative band of anti-sanctions
lobbyists have been given free reign," while pro-democracy groups and the Burmese community
were excluded from the meeting.

Harn Yawnghwe, director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma office said the study had done
little more than repeat old arguments against sanctions.

The E.U. policy of sanctions must be continued and developed to support the process of change
in Myanmar, he said.

Commission officials said that since the focus was on aid to the people of Myanmar, invitations
had been extended to individuals and agencies which had direct in-the-field experience of working
in the country.

They also denied allegations that the authors of the reports were apologists for the military regime.

The meeting comes ahead of a routine six-monthly updating of E.U. policy on Myanmar
by the bloc's governments. The European Commission will also soon unveil a strategy
for assistance to the country.