Britain to open new Foreign Office branch in Myanmar

LONDON - Britain will open a new branch of its Foreign Office in Myanmar, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday, after Prime Minister David Cameron made a landmark trip to the former pariah state.

The Foreign Office will establish a "British interests office" in Myanmar's new capital Naypyidaw, Hague said in a written statement to lawmakers.

"A British interests office in the administrative capital would strengthen the work of our embassy in Rangoon (Yangon) and demonstrate our intention to step up engagement with the Burmese government and people."

He added: "The office would provide enhanced access to government interlocutors who are based in Naypyidaw. This access would be vital for UK/Burmese relations and for encouraging democratic reform in the country."

Cameron became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar this month, and made a joint call with its opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to ease sanctions against the impoverished country.

The British premier announced a dramatic shift in stance following Suu Kyi's recent election to parliament, calling for all European Union measures except an arms embargo to be suspended, though not scrapped completely.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament in historic by-elections on April 1, announced last week that she plans to visit Britain in June as part of her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years.

Suu Kyi, who grew to embody Myanmar's struggle for democracy and was imprisoned there for most of the past two decades, has not set foot outside Myanmar since 1988.

Hague also announced that Britain was reopening its embassy in Laos after 27 years.

"Reopening the embassy will strengthen our bilateral relations with the Laotian government as the country's role and influence in the region continues to grow," Hague said.

"Trade between our countries has more than doubled in the last year. An embassy will play a vital role in helping more British businesses access this emerging market."

He added that Laos was due to chair the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016.

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