Published : 2013-03-18 19:56
Updated : 2013-03-18 19:56
CANBERRA (AFP) ― Australia Monday boosted its aid and eased restrictions on defense cooperation with Myanmar as Thein Sein became the country’s first head of state to visit Canberra since 1974.
As the once pariah country approaches the second anniversary of a quasi-civilian regime led by ex-general Thein taking power, Canberra said it was increasing its support to recognize reforms made.
“As a close neighbor, Australia will benefit from a more open and prosperous Myanmar that is fully integrated into the region,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the country formerly known as Burma.
“Australia’s commitment to expand its constructive engagement with Myanmar recognizes the unprecedented process of change underway there toward political freedom and the new opportunity this brings to help promote the prosperity of Myanmar and its people.
”It also recognizes President Thein Sein’s leadership in driving these critical reforms.“
While Canberra said its arms embargo would remain, it announced an easing of restrictions on defense cooperation including humanitarian and disaster relief activities, as well as peacekeeping.
It will also appoint a defense attache to Myanmar as well as a trade commissioner.
Gillard said $20.7 million would be provided over two years for “strengthening democratic institutions, promoting human rights, improving economic governance and advancing the rule of law.”
Thein said he was proud to be the first head of state to visit since 1974.
”My visit to Australia is one that I have looked forward to for a very long time,“ he said.
”This is because I know that Australia and Myanmar are destined to be good partners and more importantly the people of Myanmar and Australia are destined to be good friends.
“I hope that you appreciate that what we are undertaking has no equal in modern times. This is not just a simple transition ... but a transition from military rule to democratic rule,” he added.
Myanmar has surprised observers with a series of reforms following the end of nearly half a century of military rule in 2011, leading Western nations to start rolling back sanctions.
Australia last year lifted all its remaining targeted travel and financial sanctions against the country.