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Suu Kyi says Myanmar needs responsible investment

BERN/GENEVA (Reuters) - Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday urged foreign governments not to let their companies form joint ventures with her country’s state-owned oil and gas company until it improved its business practices.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) talks with Swiss apprentices (R) during a train trip from Geneva to Bern June 14, 2012. Suu Kyi began a tour of Europe almost certain to attract the kind of fanfare that will test the patience of the reformist generals now in power after decades of army rule. REUTERS/Sebastien Bozon/Pool

Suu Kyi spoke on the first full day of her first visit to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century - a trip that was disrupted when she briefly fell ill at a press conference in the Swiss capital Bern.

The 66-year-old, who spent two decades under house arrest before being elected to parliament in April, halted the event after vomiting and excusing herself saying “I’m so sorry”.

An official Swiss dinner in her honor was cancelled although she did attend a cocktail reception later, Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said. “She is tired and has gone to her hotel to rest,” he told Reuters.

Suu Kyi, who minutes before complained of jet lag and tiredness, arrived in Geneva late on Wednesday at the start of her 17-day trip to Europe which will include stops in Norway, Britain, Ireland and France.

In Bern, Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter said Switzerland was partially lifting sanctions against Myanmar except for an embargo on military weapons that could be used for the “purpose of repression”.

Earlier in Geneva, she received a standing ovation at the International Labour Organization (ILO), whose director-general Juan Somavia praised her “remarkable courage and determination”.

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“The Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise ... with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present,” she said in a speech to the ILO’s annual conference.

“The (Myanmar) government needs to apply internationally recognized standards such as the IMF code of good practices on fiscal transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner MOGE unless it was signed up to such codes,” she said.

Responsible investment was the key to helping her resource-rich country along the path to democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, she said.

The hugely popular leader of Myanmar’s opposition had been fearful until now that if she left Myanmar, the junta whose rule she fought against for two decades would block her return.

But after months of cautious rapprochement with Thein Sein, a former general who convinced her to run in by-elections, she accepted an offer to go to Thailand to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia two weeks ago in one of the clearest signs yet of her confidence in Myanmar’s reforms.

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Myanmar has granted Chinese state-owned oil firm CNPC oil and gas pipeline concessions that will enable Middle East energy supplies to a take short-cut on the route to China, cutting out the extra expense and journey time of using the Malacca Strait.

“Quite frankly none of us know what’s in those contracts, this is what I mean by lack of transparency in the country,” Suu Kyi told a news conference. “Lack of transparency leads to all kinds of suspicions that shore up trouble for the future.”

Asked about Chevron and Total, the big Western oil firms with investments in Myanmar, she said: “I have to say that I find that Total is a responsible investor in the country, even though there was a time when we did not think they should be encouraging the military regime by investing in Burma.

“They were sensitive to human rights and environmental issues and now that we’ve come to a point in time when we would like investors who are sensitive to such issues, I am certainly not going to persuade Chevron or Total to pull out.”

A day after the ILO, a United Nations agency, lifted its more than decade-old restrictions on Myanmar in recognition of progress including a new law on trade unions and pledge to end forced labor, Suu Kyi said foreign direct investment that created jobs should be welcomed.

As sanctions are lifted, investment should be responsible and help the process of democratization, she said.

“Burma is a land with a lot of energy resources. We do not want to dissipate it. I would like to see a sound effective energy policy in Burma and this should be related to the kind of extractive investments that we invite in.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens