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Finnish Nobel peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari said Friday he believed Myanmar's reformist government could win the Nobel Peace Prize, as Helsinki announced 6.5 million euros ($8.4 million) in development aid to the country.
Ahtisaari met in Helsinki with Myanmar's reformist President Thein Sein during his landmark 10-day visit to Europe aimed at forging stronger political and economic ties between the former pariah state and the West.
The former Finnish president told AFP he believed Myanmar's government was a "serious candidate" for the Nobel peace award if the democratic transition it had undertaken was completed.
Ahtisaari himself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his role as a mediator in several international conflicts.
Under Thein Sein, the Myanmar government had been able to "get results faster than, for example, an interim government" would have, he noted.
He urged Thein Sein to continue efforts to transform the country, saying change could only come from within.
Also on Friday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe announced a 6.5 million-euro aid package after meeting the Myanmar leader.
"Finland is willing to reach out" to Myanmar, Niinistoe said at a joint press conference with the former general.
The aid would be distributed between 2014 and 2016, according to a Finnish diplomatic source.
"Steps have been taken to improve human rights," Niinistoe said of the reforms that have prompted the EU to suspend all sanctions apart from an arms embargo.
The United States has also dismantled key trade and investment sanctions against the Southeast Asian country.
Speaking on the economy, Thein Sein invited Finnish entrepreneurs to "work together with Myanmar in order to strengthen investment."
The former prime minister will also try to reap the fruits of his liberalisation policies as he visits Austria, Belgium and Italy before returning home on March 8.
Thein Sein kicked off his trip in Norway earlier this week, following Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's own milestone visit to the country last year, where she was finally able to accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in person after spending years under house arrest.