Tuesday, February 24, 2009

EU Calls for Political Reform in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

In a statement on Monday, the European Union (EU)’s current presidency called for dialogue between the Burmese junta and the opposition, the release of political prisoners and the lifting of restrictions on political parties.

“The Presidency of the EU strongly calls for an immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, lifting all restrictions on political parties, and all-inclusive dialogue between the authorities and the democratic forces, including ethnic groups,” the statement said.

From January to June 2009, the Czech Republic holds the presidency of the EU, followed by Sweden in the second half of the year. The Czech Republic is known to be sympathetic toward Burma’s pro-democracy movement. Its former president, Václav Havel, nominated Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she won in 1991.

The EU Presidency recalled the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution which said the political process in Burma is “not transparent, inclusive, [or] free and fair; and that the procedures established for the drafting of the constitution resulted in the de facto exclusion of the opposition from the process.”

The EU Presidency also said that it shared the view by UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari, saying now is the time for the Burmese junta to demonstrate its commitment to addressing concretely the issues of concern to the international community.

Since 1996, the EU has had a common position on Burma. This includes economic sanctions, an arms embargo and visa bans on Burmese military officials and their family members, as well as restricting visits to Burma by high-level officials from EU member states. It tightened its sanctions on Burma following the junta’s crackdown on monk-led demonstrators in September 2007.

Although the EU still retains sanctions against the Burmese junta, the European Commission provided Euro 39 million (US $50 million) for the initial Cyclone Nargis recovery project in 2008.

The European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner previously addressed a Burma conference in October 2008 saying, “Some positive political signals [in Burma] can be perceived, such as the continuation of the political process—the ‘Road Map.’ However, much more needs to be achieved.”

Observers say the “Road Map” is the Burmese junta’s plan to enshrine military rule in Burma rather than encourage a process of democratization.

Ferrero-Waldner said Burma is in “dire need” of democratic reforms, release of political prisoners and good governance. She also said that the EU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the UN had taken an “active role in fostering a dialogue on political reforms” in the country.

Last week, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), called for political dialogue without preconditions between the junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the NLD leader, Suu Kyi.

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