Myanmar, EU kick off task force meeting on democratic transition

Myanmar and the European Union started Thursday their first meeting of a bilateral task force to provide comprehensive support to the Asian country's transition to democracy.

At the opening session in Yangon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, "I want to send a message to the people of Myanmar that we will stand with them and support them for as long as it takes to help this country reach what we believe it can be -- a beacon in this region and in the world for democracy, peace and prosperity."

Ashton spoke before a crowd of more than 200 people including several government ministers and the country's opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

Myanmar President Office Minister Soe Thein warned about raising expectations of a swift transition, saying it is impractical to bring about changes quickly in a country that has been in a state of "near stagnation" for over fifty years.

The country "is more than willing to fight for a new future", but the process needs time to mature as it is dangerous to do too much at once, Soe Thein told the opening session. "Please don't expect Myanmar to become perfect within a year or two years or even ten."

The task force brought together EU business leaders, civil groups, and politicians who are keen on learning from counterparts and establishing partnerships in Myanmar, Ashton said.

The delegation led by Ashton arrived in Yangon Wednesday for discussions to identify areas for cooperation and assistance. A plenary session attended by President Thein Sein is scheduled for Friday in the capital, Naypyitaw.

The EU lifted economic sanctions against Myanmar last year and has increased development assistance after President Thein Sein implemented a series of reform measures. The EU also decided to reinstate preferential trading status for Myanmar in June.