The European Union opened an office in Yangon on Saturday in recognition of the democratic progress made in Myanmar and to offer support for further reforms.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, presided over the inauguration of the office with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Yangon Chief Minister Myint Swe.
Ms. Ashton said the new office will help the EU “engage and support Myanmar’s political process.” The EU, already the leading provider of humanitarian aid to Myanmar, has pledged 150 million euros in aid for 2012-13, mainly in long-term rural development programmes.
Suu Kyi, who assisted the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said: “The more transparent the better. I hope the opening of this office in Burma will enhance the relationship between the EU and Burma.” Suu Kyi still refers to Myanmar by its old name, Burma. It was changed to Myanmar by former junta leader Saw Maung in 1992.
The EU earlier this week announced the suspension of sanctions imposed on Myanmar for the past two decades. But an arms embargo remains in place.
The decision to ease sanctions followed the changes that have taken place under President Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011.
The reform-minded former army general has freed hundreds of political prisoners, signed ceasefire agreements with a dozen ethnic insurgent groups and paved the way for Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi to return to mainstream politics.
Ashton was to meet Thein Sein in Naypyitaw, the capital, on Sunday.
“We know changes take time, they need to be well embedded and they need to be guaranteed so that people can feel confident in their own future,” Ashton said. “And we hope that we can work alongside you to help that be a lasting achievement.” Suu Kyi and 42 members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 43 of 45 contested seats in a by-election on April 1.
Although they were scheduled to take their parliamentary seats on Monday, the party boycotted the event over an objection to the swearing-in oath.
The oath would have required them to “safeguard” the country’s pro-military constitution. Myanmar was under military rule between 1962 and 2010, and the military still controls 25 per cent of the seats in parliament.
Suu Kyi has downplayed the issue as a “technical matter”, which should not develop into a political crisis.
The previous junta kept Suu Kyi, 66, under house arrest for 15 years between 1989 to 2010.
Ms. Ashton will visit the NLD headquarters before departing Monday.