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Myanmar leader in Oslo, to seek deeper ties with West

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Myanmar President Thein Sein arrived in Oslo on Tuesday, kicking off his first trip to Europe aimed at forging stronger ties between the former pariah state and the West.

The reformist leader landed at Oslo's international airport, Norwegian officials said, for a three-day stay in the Scandinavian country to be followed by visits to Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy before he returns to Myanmar on March 8.

The former junta general has impressed the international community with a string of reforms since coming to power in early 2011, including welcoming long-detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.

Thein Sein's trip to Norway follows Suu Kyi's own landmark visit to Oslo last year, where she made her long-awaited Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in person for the honour awarded her in 1991, as she spent the better part of two decades under house arrest.

While in Oslo, Thein Sein was due to discuss issues pertaining to future democratic reforms, development aid, the environment and economic cooperation, though no major agreements were expected to be signed, Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen said.

"Many positive things have taken place in Myanmar in recent years but there is still more to be done," Elsebutangen said.

"On the Norwegian side, we think it's important to support these positive developments and to try to help those who are moving things in the right direction," he added.

Thein Sein, described as a discreet and loyal conservative, is due to hold talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, and meet with members of the Myanmar community in Norway.

A highly-symbolic interview with the opposition radio Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), long based in Oslo, was included as a possibility in his official programme but remained to be confirmed.

The trip to Belgium was meanwhile due to include both bilateral and "EU high level meetings", a European diplomat told AFP.

A second European diplomatic source said the topics to be discussed would include sanctions and development aid as well as economic reforms, the country's human rights record and efforts to negotiate peace in ongoing conflicts.

After the swift reforms Thein Sein undertook after coming to power, the European Union responded last April by suspending all sanctions apart from an arms embargo, while the United States has also dismantled many of its key trade and investment sanctions.

But concerns remain over an ongoing conflict in the northen state of Kachin and communal Buddhist-Muslim unrest in the western state of Rakhine.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130226/myanmar-leader-oslo-seek-deeper-ties-west