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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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The Myanmar Times

Swiss embassy to open in Yangon

Swiss Ambassador to Myanmar Mr Christoph Burgener. (Photograph Supplied / November 2, 2012)Swiss Ambassador to Myanmar Mr Christoph Burgener. (Photograph Supplied / November 2, 2012)

The first resident Swiss ambassador to Myanmar has pledged to expand humanitarian aid to the country.

Switzerland will formally open its embassy – at 11 Kabaung Lane, Pyay Road, Hlaing township – on November 3 in the presence of the Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, during his state visit to Myanmar.

Ambassador Mr Christoph Burgener said at a press conference on October 29 that he was happy and proud to be his country’s first resident ambassador to Myanmar, and promised to expand long-term humanitarian activities.

“We want to support the reforms in Myanmar, and to share our experience with the government, political parties and ethnic minority groups, and with the people of Myanmar,” he said.

“We too have had to work through our differences, developing a complicated system of checks and balances and a strong bottom-up approach to democracy.

“We also want to further strengthen our presence in Asia.”

He said the political changes in Myanmar had meant that in the past six months, Switzerland has “had more visitors from Myanmar than in the past 50 years”, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr Thomas Fisler, deputy director of cooperation, said Switzerland’s aid program would retain its reputation for quality and community participation. The country has contributed humanitarian assistance to refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border, and helped restore schools after Cyclone Nargis.

Mr Peter Tschumi, deputy head of mission and director of cooperation, said Swiss development assistance would be used to improve health and social access in some of the country’s most vulnerable communities, and would focus on restoring and improving living conditions for the poor and those in conflict-affected areas.

There would also be assistance to promote better agricultural practices and food security, and to enhance livelihoods, he said.

Short- and long-term training would also aim at providing employment and vocational skills.

Ms Corinne Henchoz Pignani, head of economic and political affairs, said Switzerland would seek to expand its economic ties with Myanmar by assisting Swiss companies seeking to invest in Myanmar and Myanmar businesses wishing to operate in Switzerland. It would work closely with the Swiss Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Swiss-Myanmar business network.

She said particular focus would be placed on small- and medium-enterprises.

“I do appreciate what President U Thein Sein said on the rights-based approach to economic and social development. Switzerland will favour the same approach, which is beneficial to political reform in Myanmar and sustainable in the long run,” she said.

“Switzerland is seeking to promote an ethical approach by proposing a regular economic dialogue between two governments,” she added.

Ms Claudine Haenni Dale, an adviser to the embassy on peace building and human rights, underlined that the Swiss approach to peace building is long-term engagement with the various actors involved in negotiations.

“We are not seeking to take the role of mediators. The various groups and the government are already talking directly with one another. There is no need for third-party direct involvement,” she said. “But we are ready to assist if asked.”

The embassy will also focus on the ratification by Myanmar of major human rights treaties, as well as training on the implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law so that it could help change attitudes and behaviour to make a difference on the ground, she said.

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