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France to Triple Its Aid to Burma

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French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé concluded his visit to Burma on Monday saying that France would triple its development assistance to Burma and work toward a step-by-step lifting of international sanctions.

Juppé's visit was the first ever by a French foreign minister to Burma and a first ministerial visit since 1988.

He made his comments on a round-up conversation with the French press delegation that followed him on his trip which took him first to Japan then to Burma.

He announced that France will triple its development assistance to Burma, and will also consider allowing the French Development Agency to become active in Burma in the fields of education, health and agriculture.

Development aid to Burma will amount to roughly 3 million euros per year, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

France will "work with our partners in the European Union and our American friends towards a step-by-step lifting of sanctions," Juppé told the French journalists, leading to a revision of the EU's common position with regards to Burma at the end of April.

"One could doubtlessly look at removing the visa ban," he elaborated. "One has to look at what can be done in terms of unfreezing certain assets, selectively of course."

The imposition of the Generalized System of Preferences, reducing the level of tariffs on Burmese goods to most favored nation levels, "does not seem to be a problem," Juppé said.

Juppé met with Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday in Rangoon conveying to her the distinction of commander of the French Légion d'Honneur, one of France's highest honors.

Presenting the award to Suu Kyi, the minister said “his heart was beating faster than normal.”

Their talks were preceded by a telephone conversation between Suu Kyi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Jan. 13.

Juppé also met with various other dissident politicians in Rangoon, most prominently with Min Ko Naing, a student leader in the 1988 demonstrations, who had been freed three days earlier in a government amnesty.

He then went on to Naypyidaw to hold talks with President Thein Sein, his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin and the speakers of both Houses of Parliament.

The meetings "have convinced me that there was a total convergence of views among the various authorities to go forward on the road to democratization and liberalization of the regime," Juppé told the press delegation.

Juppé refused to speculate on the possibility of a military coup when questioned by one of the journalists. “Every democratization process, especially after such a long period of authoritarian rule, can face some difficulties,” he said, adding that he didn’t “see any reason for pessimism.”

Asked whether the constitutional reforms had been discussed, Juppé said that he had not obtained a time schedule for such reforms. “Our role,” he said, “is to keep up the pressure.”

France had already doubled its food aid to Burma from 2010 to 2011 to a total of 800,000 euros (US $1 million), according to the website of the French embassy in Rangoon.

The embassy also had a yearly cooperation budget of 350,000 euros ($450,000) as well as a small-grant program amounting to 80,000 euros ($100,000).

Juppé's trip followed visits by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Chinese State Counselor Wang Qishan, and many other high-level international delegations in the last two months.