(Updates with Hague quotes after meetings with government starting in second paragraph)
Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- William Hague urged Myanmar’s government to build on steps toward greater freedom and democracy during the first visit by a British foreign secretary since 1955, holding out the prospect that European Union sanctions may be lifted in return.
The release of some political prisoners, increased freedom for the media and changes to the law to allow Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to take part in elections in April are positive steps that could lead to improved relations, Hague said in an e-mailed statement after meeting with President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wanna Maung Lwin and Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann.
“I emphasised the importance the British government attaches to the reforms that the Burmese government has undertaken in the last six months, and my sincere hope that there will be further progress in the weeks and months ahead,” Hague said. “I made clear that the British government stands ready to respond positively to evidence of further progress towards that lasting improvement in human rights and political freedom that the people of Burma seek.”
Hague is the highest ranking U.K. official in half a century to visit Myanmar, run since 1962 by a repressive military regime that still exerts control through a new civilian government.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the resource-rich southeast Asian country in November and said Dec. 2 she was “cautiously hopeful” about President Thein Sein’s efforts to ease political repression and end the nation’s international isolation. U.S. and EU sanctions in place for more than two decades have left Myanmar dependent on neighbors China, India and Thailand, which have poured more than $25 billion into ports, power plants, and oil and gas pipelines.
Hague, who held talks with senior government ministers before meeting with Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders during the two-day visit, said he wants to see the release of more political prisoners, free and fair elections and steps toward stopping fighting in ethnic regions.
The U.K., the biggest aid donor to Myanmar with 185 million pounds ($289 million) passed to the country through non- governmental organisations over three years, will meet with its EU partners to set benchmarks for the lifting of sanctions after Hague’s visit.
--With assistance from Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok. Editors: Andrew Atkinson, Eddie Buckle
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