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Cautious praise for Myanmar from German President Gauck

February 10, 2014

German President Joachim Gauck says Myanmar's reform course must include more reconciliation for its ethnic minorities. In his presence, officials signed plans for 500 million euros in debt relief for Myanmar.

Former general-turned-present Thein Sein was told by visiting German President Joachim Gauck on Monday that Myanmar can count on Germany if the Asian nation continues on its route toward democracy.

Gauck later told Myanmar's longtime opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that he knew of "many other nations that were slower in reaching democratic norms than this country."

Suu Kyi described Gauck's visit as "encouragement" because the onetime pastor in former communist East Germany had "lived for many years under a dictatorship." 

After being welcomed with military honors to Myanmar's remote capital Naypyitaw, Gauck told Thein that reports about the unresolved legal status of Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority were worrying. 

"The violent disputes between Buddhists and Muslims bring suffering and misfortune," Gauck said, adding ceasefire agreements were not sufficient to create freedom. 

Outbreaks of inter-communal violence began in 2012 in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, leaving scores of people dead and about 140,000 displaced, many from the Rohingya minority. 

Ceremonies in Yangon 

Gauck was due to fly late on Monday back to Yangon. On Tuesday he is scheduled to open branch offices of Germany's Goethe Institute and trade sector in the city. 

Before Thein became the head of civilian government in 2011, Myanmar – otherwise known as Burma – was ruled by a military junta between 1988 and 2010. Lengthy western economic sanctions were largely dropped in 2012. 

Last Thursday, the US Export-Import Bank began to offer credit on trade with Myanmar. The nation also joined a UN program to improve child nutrition. 

A UNICEF spokesman said one third of Myanmar's children under five had stunted growth. Myanmar had south-east Asia's third-highest malnutrition rate. 

Myanmar media say access to information remains difficult despite the lifting of pre-publication censorship and the granting of new licenses to newspapers.

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