EU foreign policy chief Ashton visits Burma

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Media captionCatherine Ashton: "We know that changes take time, they need to be well embedded"

The European Union foreign policy chief has met Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Catherine Ashton, who is in the country to show the EU's support for recent political reforms, said she would open a new, embassy-level office in Rangoon.

Ms Ashton will also hold talks with ministers of the military-backed government.

Earlier this week the EU suspended sanctions against Burma for a year in recognition of "historic changes".

'Irreversible process'

"This is a process of change," Ms Ashton said during a joint press conference with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, according to Agence France Presse.

"I hope we will see all the elements put in place so this will become an irreversible process that will only continue," she added.

The EU's role in the country will be to offer investment and expertise, particularly in remote rural areas.

Diplomats have said that the new office in Rangoon will mostly oversee the management of aid programmes but will also have a political role.

It will be the EU's first step towards a full delegation in the country.

'Investment opportunities'

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey, in Rangoon, says that on the part of EU member states there is both a political desire and a practical interest to get more aid into the country.

She adds that Ms Ashton's visit is the latest in a stream of high-level diplomatic meetings that reveal a rapidly escalating process of international engagement between Burma and the rest of the world.

There is, our correspondent explains, a growing determination among foreign governments to try to keep this country on the right track and to seek to reap the potential investment opportunities that might follow.

Ahead of the visit, Lady Ashton said that the EU welcomed what it called the "remarkable changes" in the country and said it marked "a new chapter in our relations".

Later during her trip, she is due to the country's remote capital, Naypyitaw, to meet President Thein Sein, the speaker of the lower house Thura Shwe Mann and Railways Minister Aung Min.

An EU embargo on arms sales remains in place and the bloc has said that it still expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released.

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