Apr 18, 2011

EU relaxes visa ban and asset freeze for some members of Myanmar government

LUXEMBOURG: European governments Tuesday extended by one year a set of trade and financial sanctions on Myanmar -- but opened the door to the Burmese foreign minister in an inducement to accelerate change.

Despite debate stirred by an appeal by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to relax them, the European Union "deems it necessary to renew the restrictive measures for a period of 12 months," foreign ministers from the 27 states said in a statement after talks in Luxembourg focused on Libya and Ivory Coast.

However, it said the application of a visa ban and asset freeze for "certain civilian members of the government" would be lifted for a year, especially for Myanmar's foreign minister "as an essential interlocutor" with the West.

Likewise, a ban on high-level EU officials visiting Myanmar.

The EU said it took the decision with a degree of reluctance, "in the hope" of "a greater civilian character of the government," with a newly-opened parliament still dominated by the Burmese military after direct junta rule.

The release of Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi from house arrest in November, after a widely-criticised election, reignited debate over sanctions also enforced by the United States in response to human rights abuses.

Supporters say the sanctions are the only way to pressure the military rulers of Myanmar, where there are about 2,200 political prisoners.

Suu Kyi's party has no voice in the parliament. It was disbanded for opting to boycott the November vote because the rules seemed designed to bar Suu Kyi from participating.

The United States also said in February that calls to ease sanctions on Myanmar were premature.

Source: AFP/wk