Australia promised on Monday to boost aid to and ease defense restrictions on Burma as President Thein Sein became the first Burmese head of state to visit the country in decades.
Australia will allow limited defense cooperation with Burma on humanitarian and disaster relief and peacekeeping, but its arms embargo will remain in place, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at a joint press conference with Thein Sein in Canberra on Monday.
Gillard pledged U.S. $21 million to Burma to help "strengthen democratic institutions, deliver human rights training, improve economic governance, and advance the rule of law.”
The financial support would be increased to U.S. $100 million by 2015, and Australia will also post a defense attaché and a trade commissioner in Burma, she said.
Thein Sein, whose three-day visit to Canberra was the first by a top Burmese leader since 1974, said Australia’s help is much needed in Burma as it undergoes a democratic transition after decades of military rule.
“We understand the long-held concerns of the Australian government and people regarding Burma’s human rights situation,” he said, asking for Australia’s understanding of the political challenges facing Burma.
“But Burma needs your support to get on a smooth path toward a peaceful, democratic country.”
"What we are undertaking has no parallel in modern times. It is not just a single transition, but three at the same time: from military rule to democratic rule, from 60 years of armed conflict to peace, and from a centrally controlled and isolated economy to one that can end poverty and create real opportunities for all our people."
A meeting in Laos last November between Gillard and Thein Sein—a former general in the military junta who has spearheaded Burma’s reforms since taking power two years ago—was the first in three decades between leaders of the two countries.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.