Monday, May 18, 2009

EU Weighs Stepping up Burma Sanctions

The Irrawaddy News

BRUSSELS — China, India and other Asian countries should press Burma's military leaders to drop charges against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and release her from house arrest, EU foreign ministers said Monday.

The EU ministers meeting in Brussels discussed increasing sanctions against Burma's junta, but also said they would urge Burma's neighbors to do more to help restore democracy in the Southeast Asian country.

"We will have to engage with other countries in the region, those are the ones that have a real possibility to influence" the military junta, Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.

Suu Kyi, one of Burma's more than 2,100 political prisoners, is on trial in Rangoon for allegedly harboring an American man who swam to her lakeside home where she was under house arrest.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris called the trial a "scandalous provocation."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU was "very concerned" over the trial and efforts by the military junta to shove through "sham" constitutional reforms.

"The house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi is bad enough, but for her to be put on a show trial just adds to her pain," he said in Brussels. Suu Kyi has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years under detention.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana led the call for more sanctions, though others questioned whether existing EU punitive measures were working, including a travel ban on Burma's political officials, an arms embargo and a freeze of assets in Europe.

"We have seen the sanctions have not helped. They have not brought anything new," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Sweden's Bildt said EU nations would pressure their counterparts from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma, when they meet next week in Hanoi, Vietnam. Past efforts to cajole the Asian group to denounce Burma have failed.

Burma has been ruled by its military since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising, and has stepped up its campaign against opposition politicians and activists before elections planned for next year.

The EU imposed sanctions in 2006 to protest the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy groups, and added other economic sanctions in 2007, including a ban on imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals.

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