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Hollande urged to push Myanmar reform as Thein Sein visits Paris

media French President Francois Hollande (L) welcomes President of Myanmar Thein … Reuters

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein was set to meet François Hollande on Wednesday on his first-ever visit to Paris. Campaigners have urged the French president to press for progress on human rights, notably for the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Fresh from a three-day visit to London, his first to Europe, the former general was to lunch with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault before meeting Hollande at the Elysée presidential palace.

The European Union has scrapped most sanctions against the Myanmar military regime since Thein Sein came to power in 2011 and introduced a number of reforms, including ending opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest and freeing 42 child soldiers.

He has promised that all prisoners of conscience will be liberated by the end of the year.

"The president will express our desire that the process of transition continues, speeds up and that the liberation of political prisoners comes about as quickly as possible," said an Elysée spokesperson.

The resumption of visits by Red Cross officials to the country's prisons was a promising development, the spokesperson added, but he said France remained concerned about ongoing communal violence.

Clashes between Buddhists and Rohingyas last year left about 200 people, most of them Muslims, dead and there has been further violence this year.

And at the beginning of July three rights activists were imprisoned, one of them for 11 years six months.

In an open letter to Hollande six French rights groups, including the Human Rights Federation, Reports Without Borders and Info Birmanie, urge the president to resist pressure from French businesses and keep the pressure on Myanmar’s rulers.

"France must not let itself be guided solely by economic interests as major French businesses such as Vinci Bouygues, Total and Orange are in the process of negotiating contracts in Myanmar," the letter reads.

Trade between France and Myanmar, a potential market of about 60 million, remains at a modest level, with one diplomatic source putting the figure at 18 million euros a year.

French Minister of Foreign Trade Nicole Bricq is scheduled to visit Myanmar later this month. Development Minister Pascal Canfin travelled to the country in March.

Suu Kyi visited the Elysée last year.

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