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Gillard raises concerns with Burma over ‘ethnic cleansing’

Julia Gillard in talks with Burmese president Thein Sein. Picture:Howard Moffat/AUSPIC Source: Supplied

FEARS over “ethnic cleansing” in northern
Myanmar have prompted Julia Gillard to express concern at the fate of
the country’s ethnic minorities even as Australia extends a welcome
to the country’s president.

The Prime Minister used a bilateral meeting with
Burmese president Thein Sein on Monday to express concern at the
unrest as the issue overshadowed a meeting that sought to repair ties
between the two countries.

Ms Gillard emphasised the positive steps in Burma,
however, and invited Mr Sein – who has led the government since last
year after a career as a military commander – to Australia in
December. The visit is expected to take place on 10-12 December.

In the first bilateral meeting between Australian and
Myanmar leaders since 1984, Ms Gillard congratulated Mr Sein for his
personal leadership in the country’s reforms, which included the
release of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political

Australia is responding to the reform by lifting
sanctions and increasing aid, which is expected to double by 2015.

Sources said Ms Gillard encouraged further steps in
human rights reforms, including for ethnic minorities.
Ethnic clashes have led to mountain attacks this year
on some of the estimated one million Muslim Royingyas who live near
the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the state of Rakhine.

Ms Gillard told reporters earlier that Myanmar needed
to do more on human rights.

“More needs to happen – more needs to happen on
questions like human rights for ethnic minorities, so there is more
to do, but we should be welcoming the journey that is being
undertaken in Myanmar,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Vientiane
before the bilateral meeting.

Ms Gillard noted that Australia had already lifted
sanctions on Burma and was increasing ties with the nation, noting
the trade mission there last week by Financial Services Minister Bill
Shorten and business executives.
The bilateral meeting with the Myanmar leader was one
of several at the Asia-Europe Meeting, ASEM, being held in the Lao
capital of Vientiane on Monday and Tuesday.

The Prime Minister is expected to hold other meetings
on Monday including bilateral meetings with Cambodian prime minister
Hun Sen, French president Francois Hollande and Pakistan prime
minister Pervez Ashraf.

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