Australian FM meets Myanmar president

Published July 10, 2013

| AFP

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr met Myanmar's reformist leaders Wednesday on a visit aimed at boosting relations with the former junta-ruled nation in reward for sweeping political changes.

Carr discussed investment and aid with President Thein Sein and "offered Australian support" in efforts to end long-running ethnic rebellions in his talks with senior officials in the capital Naypyidaw, according to a spokesman.

"Both parties agreed that there was more to be done in the reconciliation process," Carr's media advisor Patrick Low told AFP.

He said talks with Thein Sein focused on raising living standards in the impoverished nation.

Canberra is increasing its development aid for Myanmar to Aus$100 million (US$90 million) by 2015 -- more than double its 2012 level -- as it looks to support education in the country.

Australia was one of the first countries to roll back sanctions against the former pariah state last year. The removal of most Western embargoes has resulted in a slew of firms eyeing the resource-rich country.

"There are numerous Australian companies interested in investing, particularly in the resource sector. That's something that we encourage," Low told AFP, adding that Woodside, Australia's biggest energy firm, had already entered the country.

Carr also met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday for discussions centred on strengthening democratic institutions, Low said.

Since Thein Sein, a former junta general, took over the presidency in 2011 hundreds of political prisoners have been released and Suu Kyi has been elected to parliament.

Tentative peace deals have been agreed with all major ethnic rebel groups, but human rights concerns remain particularly in western Rakhine state where communal unrest has killed over 200 people and left tens of thousands of mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims homeless.

President Thein Sein visited Australia in March, becoming Myanmar's first head of state to do so since 1974.

At the time Canberra announced an easing of restrictions on defence cooperation including humanitarian and disaster relief activities, as well as peacekeeping, but said its arms embargo would remain.

Carr will end his visit on Thursday in the commercial hub Yangon, where he will discuss efforts to preserve the city's historic colonial era architecture.

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