France urges Myanmar leader to investigate anti-Muslim violence
PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande pressed Myanmar's president on Wednesday to investigate violence against the country's Muslim minority in depth, and said a pledge to release political prisoners must be followed by action.
Hollande met briefly with Thein Sein in Paris two days after the former military leader visited his British counterpart in London as part of a tour aimed at securing Western aid to help Myanmar emerge from decades of dictatorship.
The Socialist president greeted Thein Sein coolly and skipped a habitual exchange with journalists after their encounter, issuing a statement instead as rights groups elsewhere in Paris protested against attacks on Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims.
"The President of the Republic underscored the necessity of seeing that all prisoners of conscience are released without condition, and that recent intercommunal violence is fully investigated," the statement said.
Hollande welcomed the opening of Myanmar's political process to opposition parties and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and said France was willing to provide aid to develop healthcare and education.
However, he echoed calls by U.S. President Barack Obama - whom Thein Sein met earlier this year - and British Prime Minister David Cameron to press ahead with democratic reforms and efforts to resolve decades of inter-ethnic fighting.
On Sunday, Thein Sein said he had disbanded a security force accused of rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in the west of Myanmar, scene of deadly violence between Muslims and majority Buddhists in the past year.
He also said he was close to brokering a nationwide ceasefire to end long-running ethnic conflicts.
Hollande urged that rights groups be allowed to operate more freely in Myanmar - a nod to the many groups that urged him to adopt a tougher stance toward the former military dictatorship in the days before his visit.
Julien Bayou, a spokesman for the online activist network Avaaz, said reports of violence against Muslims were still emerging from Myanmar and that reconciliation was not yet a reality.
"France cannot remain silent before these crimes against humanity," he told Reuters TV. "More needs to be done to pressure Myanmar's leaders."