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A woman sorts through rubbish for cardboard to sell for recycling in Mandalay. Photo: Brennan O’Connor/Nomad Photos

The UN humanitarian chief on Tuesday announced an allocation of 72 million U.S. dollars from an emergency fund to assist people in neglected crises around the world, a UN spokesman told reporters here.

"The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, announced the allocation of some 72 million U.S. dollars for humanitarian work in neglected crises in twelve countries," said Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN secretary-general, at the daily briefing.

"These new allocations bring the total amount provided through the underfunded emergencies part of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to an unprecedented 172 million U.S. dollars in a single year," Nesirky said.

The funds will support vital humanitarian aid in Bangladesh, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Haiti, Madagascar, Mauritania, Myanmar, Niger, Pakistan, the Philippines and Somalia, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

"This money will save lives by ensuring that humanitarian organizations can continue to support the most vulnerable men, women and children caught in the midst of devastating disasters and conflicts," Amos was quoted as saying in the news release.

CERF, which is managed by OCHA, is one of the world's largest sources of humanitarian funding, and every year a third of all its funds is set aside for underfunded emergencies to help even out disparities between aid appeals.

Since 2006, CERF has supplied assistance to face the consequences of natural disasters and other crisis to 87 countries and territories. In 2012, CERF allocated some 465 million dollars to 49 countries, including Haiti, Pakistan, South Sudan, Syria, Myanmar and the DPRK.

CERF is funded by voluntary contributions from UN member states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local governments, the private sector and individual donors.

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Protesters outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London stage a mock meeting between UK Premier David Cameron and Myanmar President Thein Sein on Monday. CREDIT: Anna Roberts, Burma Campaign UK

Myanmar President Thein Sein’s first official visit to the UK prompted pressure from international bodies calling for him to address human rights issues in his country.

During his visit on Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, protesters staged a demonstration outside Downing Street with ‘R.I.P Rohingya’ written on a mock cemetery of gravestones as a call to protect the Muslim ethnic minority.

Refugees International stated that pledges made by Thein Sein to prevent further abuse against ethnic minorities are still unfulfilled, as humanitarian access remains restricted in conflict areas.

“President Thein Sein has made several public statements about his supposed commitment to assisting the Rohingya community, but we have yet to see any real actions,” said Refugees International Senior Advocate Melanie Teff.

Last year, violence between radical Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine State led to about 200 people killed and some 140,000 displaced.

Despite ceasefire agreements, other ethnic minorities such as those in Kachin and Karen states are suffering from decades of armed conflict against the Myanmar army. At least 400,000 people have been driven from their homes to escape bloodshed, said Human Rights Watch in a statement released on the same day as the Myanmar President’s arrival in London.

But addressing an audience in the English capital, Thein Sein spoke with assurance. "Very possibly over the coming weeks we will have a nationwide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years," he said.

The Myanmar leader, a former military general, also promised the release of all political prisoners by the end of 2013 as the country continues its path of economic and democratic reforms. NGOs say that around 200 political dissidents are still detained.

"By the end of the year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar," he vowed.

During talks, David Cameron vocalized his concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities and urged Thein Sein to defend human rights.

Cameron also spoke of closer military cooperation between the two countries to help resolve ethnic conflict in Myanmar.

"We believe there are many areas for Britain and your country to cooperate together, diplomatically, in terms of trade and investment, the aid and development relationship, and also our growing links in terms of our militaries," he said.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that the UK will set up a “defence attaché” in Yangon to offer military training and advice in helping Myanmar put an end to civil wars that have lasted for decades.  

Senior Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire told The Daily Telegraph: "We don't underestimate how much needs to be done in Burma [Myanmar] but it is critical we are engaged in helping the Burmese undertake changes."

He added: "The right way to proceed is to have the Burmese here and to send our officials over there to help them through their difficulties."

However the Karen Community Association UK (KCA UK) is convinced that the only way for peace to prevail is for a withdrawal of Myanmar government forces from ethnic areas.

Chairman of KCA UK Htoo Ku Hsa Say said, “As someone who has had to run for my life from the Burmese Army, I can tell Cameron he is wrong to think a few sessions in a classroom will stop the Burmese Army committing abuses. Human rights abuses are not committed by a few rogue soldiers, they are government policy.”

President Thein Sein has one more day in the UK before travelling to France for continued talks.

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Myanmar President Thein Sein (C) arrives at Yangon International Airport before leaving for a visit to Britain and France on July 14, 2013. Photo: AFP

President Thein Sein left Myanmar Sunday for a visit to Britain and France, an official said, as the former junta general looks to build on support for his much-lauded reforms.

"The president left Yangon this morning to visit Britain and France," a government official told AFP without giving further details of the visit, Thein Sein's second trip to Europe in months.

Another official earlier said the trip would be from July 14 to 18.

Thein Sein visited several European countries in March -- although not Britain or France -- to bolster relations.

The former general has surprised the international community by overseeing sweeping reforms since taking the presidency in 2011.

Those changes include freeing hundreds of political prisoners and welcoming democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party into parliament.

The European Union, which had already ditched most sanctions except an arms embargo, has readmitted Myanmar to its trade preference scheme, saying it wanted to support reform in the once-pariah state through economic development.

Washington has also lifted most embargoes and foreign companies are now eager to enter the resource-rich nation, with its perceived frontier market of some 60 million potential consumers.

Barack Obama paid a first-ever US presidential visit to Myanmar last November, and Thein Sein visited Washington in May.

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Myanmar's President Thein Sein arrived in Austria's capital Vienna on March 4, 2013, and visited the 12th-century St. Stephens Cathedral. (Photo: Myanmar President's Office)

President TheinSein will pay official visits to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and France soon, said an official announcement Thursday without specifying the date of his visit.

Expected in days,TheinSein's visits will be a follow-up of his last trip to five European countries in February-March this year, namely Norway, Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy.

The trips also came after the European Union (EU) lifted all sanctions against Myanmar in April with the exception of the embargo on arms in recognition of the country's democratic reform process.

In April 2012, accompanied by an economic and trade delegation, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a historic visit to Myanmar after the new government took office in March 2011.

Britain has committed £185 million (US$289 million) for the next four years to fund health and education projects in Myanmar through non-governmental organizations. The funding for microfinance initiatives is expected to help up to 55,000 rural people in establishing and developing small-scale enterprises.

Last month, Chief of the Defense Staff of British Armed Forces General Sir David Richardsm visited Myanmar, the first by the head of British armed forces in over 50 years. The visit was marked as a milestone in relations between the two armed forces of Myanmar and Britain after 1988.

Encouraged by Myanmar's new development, French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Alain Juppe in January 2012 paid a visit to Myanmar, the first visit by a highest-ranking French official since 1988.

Following the visit, Myanmar and France have been stepping up cultural and tourism cooperation in such fields as preservation of cultural heritage, upgrading and preservation of museums, human resources development and granting of scholarship for Culture Ministry staff.

In September 2012, French Senator and Chairman of South Asia Committee Gerard Midquel visited Myanmar during which the two parliaments pledged close cooperation between them.

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Myanmar President Thein Sein shakes hands with Senator The Hon Bob Carr, Foreign Affairs Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, at the Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace on July 10, 2013. Photo: President's Office

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr met Myanmar's reformist leaders Wednesday on a visit aimed at boosting relations with the former junta-ruled nation in reward for sweeping political changes.

Carr discussed investment and aid with President TheinSein and "offered Australian support" in efforts to end long-running ethnic rebellions in his talks with senior officials in the capital Naypyidaw, according to a spokesman.

"Both parties agreed that there was more to be done in the reconciliation process," Carr's media advisor Patrick Low told AFP.

He said talks with TheinSein focused on raising living standards in the impoverished nation.

Canberra is increasing its development aid for Myanmar to Aus$100 million (US$90 million) by 2015 –more than double its 2012 level – as it looks to support education in the country.

Australia was one of the first countries to roll back sanctions against the former pariah state last year. The removal of most Western embargoes has resulted in a slew of firms eyeing the resource-rich country.

"There are numerous Australian companies interested in investing, particularly in the resource sector. That's something that we encourage," Low told AFP, adding that Woodside, Australia's biggest energy firm, had already entered the country.

Carr also met opposition leader Aung San SuuKyi Wednesday for discussions centred on strengthening democratic institutions, Low said.

Since TheinSein, a former junta general, took over the presidency in 2011 hundreds of political prisoners have been released and SuuKyi has been elected to parliament.

Tentative peace deals have been agreed with all major ethnic rebel groups, but human rights concerns remain particularly in western Rakhine state where communal unrest has killed over 200 people and left tens of thousands of mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims homeless.

President TheinSein visited Australia in March, becoming Myanmar's first head of state to do so since 1974.

At the time Canberra announced an easing of restrictions on defense cooperation including humanitarian and disaster relief activities, as well as peacekeeping, but said its arms embargo would remain.

Carr will end his visit on Thursday in the commercial hub Yangon, where he will discuss efforts to preserve the city's historic colonial era architecture.

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CAPTION: An overpopulated IDP camp outside Sittwe. Tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled their homes in June 2012 now reside in such camps. PHOTO: Human Rights Watch

The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday condemning the "grave violations of human rights and the violence perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar."

The resolution urges the Myanmar government and its society "to act immediately to end the human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims and to bring the perpetrators of the violent attacks and other related abuses to justice."
 
Furthermore, the European Parliament urged the Myanmar government to stop discriminatory policies against the Rohingya Muslims such as the two-child regulation.

British MP Sajjad Karim, who drafted the resolution, expressed his delight over its adoption by the European Parliament. "This is a further step towards putting greater pressure on President U Thein Sein and to force him to stop the atrocities being carried out in his country," he said in a press release.