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22nd Feb 2020

EU countries to reward Burma reforms

  • Recent reforms spur EU to suspend economic sanctions in Burma (Photo: Burma Democratic Concern (BDC))

The European Union will seek to ease economic sanctions against Burma in recognition of recent pro-democratic reforms, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday (17 April).

"Everything we see points to a government which is serious about change and wants to end its country's isolation," she told MEPs in Strasbourg, adding that she will visit the country on 28 April.

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The free elections, coupled with the release of most political prisoners and ceasefire agreements with rebel movement the Karen National Union are signs the country wants to open up, Ashton noted.

Some 45 vacant seats in the parliament were for grabs in the 1 April elections. Longtime prisoner and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself was freed from house arrest to run in the vote and won a seat in the lower house.

Burma's President Thein Sein, a former general who retains close ties to the military and who took office last year, earlier this month also formalised an initial ceasefire agreement with rebels after decades of conflict.

"The longest civil war in the world, the conflict with the Karen, may soon be over, even if the Kachin conflict remains a cause of great concern," said Asthon.

The numerous internal conflicts with the military junta have displaced some 500,000 people in eastern Burma. In the west, around 800,000 Muslims, known as the Rohingya, are stateless and lack the most basic of human rights, says US-based Refugees International.

The EU in February already lifted some restrictive measures against the country's president, the vice presidents, cabinet members and the speakers of the two houses of parliament and their family members.

Ashton's announcement indicates that economic sanctions against other individuals and companies will also suspended. The EU embargo on weapons is to remain intact, however.

"In January, we suspended the visa bans on the government of Myanmar. At the end of this month, we will do more," Ashton said.

A number of high-profile Western officials and leaders have lobbied for the EU-level measures.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron, became the first standing UK prime minister to visit the country in 60 years.

For her part, Suu Kyi told the Associated Press last Friday: "I support the idea of suspension rather than the lifting of sanctions because this would be an acknowledgment of the role of the president and other reformers."

"This suspension would have taken place because of steps taken by the President and other reformers and it would also make it quite clear to those who are against reform that should they try to obstruct the way of the reformers, then sanctions could come back," she warned, however.

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