Thein Sein Meets Burmese in Norway

By The Irrawaddy 28 February 2013

Burmese President Thein Sein met with members of Norway’s Burmese community on Wednesday, urging them to return to their native country, while also expressing gratitude to his hosts for supporting his reform efforts.

“The reason I chose Norway to be my first stop is because Norway has helped our people and country in terms of education, health care and support for environmental conservation,” he said during his five-minute speech.

He also thanked the Norwegian government for clearing Burma of the 3 billion Norwegian krone (US $527 million) debt that it owes the oil-rich Scandinavian country.

After decades of isolation, Burma can now begin to rebuild itself with low-interest loans from multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, thanks to Norway and other countries that have forgiven Burma’s debts, he said.

Thein Sein also spoke about his government’s latest talks with the Kachin Independence Army, saying that he aims to go beyond ceasefire talks to begin a political dialogue that would, he said, protect the rights of ethnic minorities under the Constitution.

Speaking to around 80 members of Norway’s Burmese community, he also reiterated his call to exiles to return to their home country to contribute to the task of nation building.

“Wherever you live now, you are all people of Burma. We may not all be the same, but we all have a common love of our country. Therefore it is time to put aside our differences and work for the good of the Union,” he said.

After the brief meeting, President’s Office Minister Soe Thane and Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut took questions from the audience. Soe Thane said the public should support the president because he is leading democratic reforms.

On his three-day official visit to Norway, Thein Sein met with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide and held a press conference after their meeting on Feb. 26.

He will leave from Norway to continue to his 12-day European tour, which which will also include trips to Finland, Austria, Germany and Italy.

During the press conference, he said that his government wants to reduce armed conflict, and is therefore offering peace-building with the ethnic armed groups. His administration has reached  ceasefires agreements with 10 out o 11 ethnic armed groups in less than two years.

Then Sein also “invited Norwegian companies to invest in the energy, information and technology sectors,” according to the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.

Htet Aung Kyaw contributed reporting from Norway.