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Myanmar leader urges EU to lift sanctions

VIENNA, March 05 (BSS/AFP) - Myanmar President Thein Sein appealed yesterday for the lifting of European Union sanctions against his country, currently suspended.

"What we lack is capital and modern technologies... all
these are because of the economic sanctions for the last 20
years," he told journalists following talks with Austrian
President Heinz Fischer.

Speaking through an interpreter, Thein Sein also appealed
directly to his Austrian counterpart "to cooperate on this,"
during a joint press conference on the third leg of his first
European visit as president.

The EU suspended last April all sanctions against Myanmar,
apart from an arms embargo, in the wake of reforms introduced by
Thein Sein's government since coming to power in early 2011.

The United States has also dismantled many of its key trade
and investment sanctions, while the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund have stepped up assistance for the once pariah

But concerns remain over an ongoing conflict in the northern
state of Kachin and communal Buddhist-Muslim unrest in the
western state of Rakhine.

Following a new round of peace talks last month with Kachin
rebels, Thein Sein claimed the unrest was over.

"There's no more hostilities, no more fighting all over the
country, we have been able to end this kind of armed conflict,"
he insisted.

Praising the reforms implemented so far by Myanmar, Fischer
expressed support for ending European sanctions.

"The Austrian government belongs to those countries, which
after all the progress that has been reached, are in favour of
lifting these sanctions," he said.

But he urged Myanmar to stick to the democratic process that
has now been started.

"It is our hope that the policy can be continued and that
good and fair elections in 2015 will decide about the future way
of Myanmar," he said.

The Austrian president said he had discussed human rights
issues and "the problems of building up a democracy" with his
counterpart but did not elaborate.

In an open letter ahead of Thein Sein's visit, the Islamic
Coordination Council in Austria had urged Fischer to "strongly
condemn the ethnically motivated violence and repression of the
Rohingya Muslim minority."

The minority, numbering about 800,000, has been described by
the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet,
with thousands seeking refuge in neighbouring countries as boat

Thein Sein dismissed the issue however on Monday, noting:
"All our nationalities are living together side by side and they
are living in harmony and peace. The rights of the minorities are
also ensured in our state constitution."

Following meetings with Chancellor Werner Faymann and
parliament president Barbara Prammer, the Myanmar president met
Monday evening with representatives of the Austrian trade
chamber, where he pushed for investment in his country.

An Austrian delegation already travelled to Myanmar last
month to investigate investment possibilities.

After Norway, Finland and Austria, the Myanmar leader will
now head to Brussels for EU and bilateral talks, before ending
his 10-day trip in Italy.