22nd Aug 2019

EU turns up heat on Burmese junta

Unhappy with the little improvement on human rights in Myanmar (Burma), EU foreign ministers, meeting yesterday (Monday), have decided to crank up the pressure on the ruling military junta, by threatening to extend and expand existing EU sanctions.

Yangon’s (Rangoon) reluctance to engage in a process of democratisation with opposition leaders has been met with the threat of a 12-month extension of sanctions.

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The current measures include visa restrictions and freezing the assets of key members of the Burmese authority, the ‘State Peace and Development Council’, and those close to them.

Foreign ministers are also threatening to expand these measures to cover more individuals and to strengthen the current arms embargo, if the regime does not show signs of movement by 29 October this year.

The EU has been employing a 'carrot and stick' policy with the rulers of the south east Asian state, considered to be one of the world’s most oppressive.

In return for a normalisation in the country – improved human rights, introduction of democracy and economic reform - the EU is offering the cash-strapped country "new and stronger links between Burma/Myanmar and the European Union".

Visit to Burma

Leaders have also announced an exception to the ban on high-level visits to the country, in order to send a delegation to the country.

A Commission spokesperson said however that this delegation going "will depend entirely on the level at which they are received", which, in effect means meeting with General Than Shwe, head of the junta.

The EU delegates however will be from a 'political level', drawn from within the Commission, the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Council Secretariat.

They will also meet with (Daw) Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy. The NLD is the leading opposition party and was elected to government in 1990 winning 82% of seats; the military later annulled the vote.

Smart sanctions

European leaders are at pains to show that this extension is a measure of a "carefully calibrated" sanctions regime so it is not seen to adversely affect the Burmese population.

Brussels, generally a fan of constructive engagement, is also keen to send a message to other nations that it is not scared to use the 'stick' if no progress is made towards reform.

Among the places where the EU uses this method of diplomacy is Iran where the Union began negotiations towards a Trade and Co-operation Agreement last year, involving discussions on human rights and counter terrorism, as well as trade.

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