Thein Sein Arrives in Norway for Start of European Tour

By Saw Yan Naing 26 February 2013

Burmese President Thein Sein arrived in Norway on Tuesday for the first stop of a 12-day, five-nation tour of Europe, where he will try to drum up support for foreign aid and investment in his recently opened country.

Thein Sein will visit Norway, Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy, according to the President’s Office website. He and his delegation will spend three days in Norway, and are scheduled to return to Burma on March 8.

Kjetil Elsebutangen, the spokesperson for Norwegian Foreign Ministry, told AFP on Tuesday that the Burmese president was due to discuss issues pertaining to future democratic reforms, development aid, the environment and economic cooperation, but no major agreements were expected to be signed.

“On the Norwegian side, we think it’s important to support these positive developments and to try to help those who are moving things in the right direction,” Elsebutangen was quoted as saying.

Norway is one of the biggest foreign donors to Burma, and has been providing financial assistance to Burmese democracy activists for more than two decades, including support for exiled opposition groups on the Thai-Burmese border.

However, since a quasi-civilian government took office in 2011, Norwegian aid has shifted away from exiled dissidents and now focuses mainly on NGOs operating inside Burma through government channels.

In addition to the president, the high-level Burmese delegation also includes Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen Soe Win, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Union Minister Soe Thein and President’s Office Spokesperson Ye Htut.

The aim of the President trip is to strengthen ties between Burma and the European countries, promote environmental protection and boost investment in Burma, said President’s Office in a report on the trip.

Observers said, however, that humanitarian aid and military assistance are also expected to be on the agenda during talks between the Burmese and European leaders.

“He will raise any issue of importance to the country, and the European countries will provide assistance in accordance with their interests,” said Thakin Chan Htun, a Rangoon-based veteran politician and former Burmese ambassador to China.

He added that Soe Win’s presence in the delegation suggests that military issues will be raised during the trip.

Bertil Lintner, a veteran Swedish journalist who has covered Burma for more than two decades, said that Thein Sein is looking for aid and investments. The other priority is to seek legitimacy as a salesman for “the New Myanmar.”

There have been reports that ethnic Kachin people living in Norway will stage a demonstration during the president’s stay in the Scandinavian country to protest against the ongoing war in northern Burma’s Kachin State.

When Burma was under Western sanctions, Burmese generals were not allowed to travel to the EU or US.