An absence of peace in Myanmar was among the reasons why it was not one of the most politically powerful nations in the region, European Union ambassador Roland Kobia said in Yangon on May 8.
“You [Myanmar] should be one of the most politically powerful countries in the region and you are not because, amongst other factors, there is no peace,” Mr Kobia told a function held at a Yangon restaurant to mark Europe Day on May 9.
Mr Kobia said the EU was one of the main financial supporters of the peace process and had been supporting the Myanmar Peace Center since November 2012 because it wanted to help resolve the conflicts between the government and armed ethnic groups.
Referring to delays in the negotiations between the government and armed ethnic groups on a nationwide ceasefire accord, Mr Kobia said it was better to wait and have a better agreement than to rush and have a bad agreement.
He said there might be factors behind ethnic-based conflict which were not political but due to economic interests, as could be the case in the renewed fighting in Kachin State between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army.
Mr Kobia said the EU’s contribution to reform in Myanmar included providing training for the Myanmar Police Force which included an emphasis on respect for human rights and for transparency.
“The EU was requested to reform the police by the government and the opposition [the National League for Democracy],” he said. “We want to help the police force reform itself, form a police that is against the people to a police that is for the people.”
The task of reforming the force of more than 70,000 policemen was a challenge because of its size and some internal issues, such as its insecure relationship with the Tatmadaw, Mr Kobia said.
“These are the policemen in your townships that you see every day on the street,” he said. “If the government is saying nice things [about the transition] but the police are still beating them on the street, this is not good.”
The function also touched on the humanitarian assistance provided to Myanmar by the EU, through its funding of international non-government organisations such as Medicins sans Frontieres, Malteser International and ActionAid.
Mr Kobia declined to comment on the impact on the provision of health and medical care in Rakhine State after the expulsion of MSF by the government in late February and the suspension of operations by UN agencies and INGOs in April following riots in the state capital, Sittwe.
In response to a question, Mr Kobia said it was not the purpose of INGOs to take a position on inter-communal conflict.
“They [INGOs] don’t care whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, whatever. They help people who are dying,” he said.
Mr Kobia said the EU had contributed to economic development in Myanmar by granting it trade privileges under the Generalised System of Preferences.
He also said that bilateral negotiations on a specific EU-Myanmar trade protection agreement had begun in March.
The aim of the agreement was to ensure that European companies investing in the country would have their investments protected, “despite incomplete legislative frameworks in Myanmar,” the EU ambassador said.