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US billionaire investor George Soros said he has agreed to set up an official base for his philanthropic work in Burma after meetings with the country’s president and Aung San Suu Kyi.
The financier, one of the world’s richest men who funds pro-democracy initiatives in Burma, travelled to the army-dominated country “in his capacity as a philanthropist”, according to a statement seen on Thursday.
Soros said he planned to establish an “official presence” in the country to aid “the transition from a closed to a more open society”, following the 26 December to 3 January trip to Burma.
“My foundations have been supporting the democracy movement for 20 years, but this was my first meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. I have been and remain very much guided by her vision in my involvement in Burma,” Soros said.
Burma, which remains subject to tough Western sanctions, was left impoverished and isolated by nearly half a century of military rule.
Despite the continued dominance of the army, the new government has shown promising signs that it is willing to reform since taking over from the ruling junta in March.
President Thein Sein, a former general, has held talks with Suu Kyi, opened dialogue with ethnic rebels and indicated a wish for warmer ties with the west.
But the country has yet to meet expectations over key issues like the release of all political prisoners. Authorities caused disappointment this week by announcing a cut to jail terms for all inmates without issuing a much-anticipated amnesty for detained dissidents.
“While I am greatly encouraged by signs of political opening in Burma, the reforms are in early days. There is a big gap between the good will at the top and conditions on the ground,” Soros said, in the release from his Open Society Foundations group.
Other recent high-profile Western visitors have included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who travelled to the country on Thursday. Both represent the highest-level envoys from their nations in half a century.
Soros, who made a huge fortune from speculating, has given away billions of dollars to philanthropic causes in recent years.
Open Society Foundations have funded a number of projects in Burma since 1994, with a focus on increasing international awareness of conditions in the country and providing assistance to marginalised ethnic minorities, women, and young people.