Britain Wants Freeze on EU Sanctions

British PM wants European nations to suspend sanctions against Burma after significant reforms.

cameron&assk-305.jpg British Prime Minister David Cameron talks with Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon, April 13, 2012.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a joint statement Friday calling on the European Union to suspend sanctions against Burma to encourage continued reforms in the formerly military-ruled nation.

During the prime minister’s visit to Britain’s former colony—the first by a Western head of state since Burma transitioned to a nominally civilian government in March last year—Cameron also met with Burmese President Thein Sein, who has set the country on a course toward democratic change.

The call to suspend, but not entirely lift, all sanctions against Burma follows the election of Aung San Suu Kyi to Burma’s parliament in polls held April 1. The Nobel laureate had been under house arrest for most of the past two decades before being released in 2010.

“I think there are prospects for change in Burma and I think it is right for the rest of the world to respond to those changes,” Cameron told a press conference on the grounds of Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon.

“Of course we must respond with caution, with care. We must always be skeptical and questioning because we want to know those changes are irreversible,” he said, noting that despite the progress by the new government, more needed to be done, including the release of remaining political prisoners and ending ethnic conflicts in Burma’s remote border regions.

“But as we’ve discussed, I think it is right to suspend the sanctions that there are against Burma … because I think that it is important to send a signal that we want to help see the changes that can bring the growth of freedom, of human rights, and democracy to your country.”

Cameron made it clear, though, that he did not want to see an arms embargo on Burma to be lifted as part of any easing of sanctions.

A ‘right response’

Aung San Suu Kyi echoed Cameron’s sentiments, stressing that the Burmese people “still have a long way to go,” but said that progress is underway.

“I believe that the President Thein Sein is genuine about democratic reform. And I’m very happy that Prime Minister Cameron thinks that the suspension of sanctions is the right way to respond to this,” she said.

“I support the idea of [suspending] sanctions, rather than the lifting of sanctions, because this would be an acknowledgement of the role of the president and other reformers.”

The opposition leader said that a suspension would also serve as a warning to those who resist reform that sanctions could again be put into play.

“So this would strengthen the hand of the reformers—not just the suspension, but the fact that there is always the possibility of sanctions coming back again if the reformers are not allowed to proceed smoothly,” she said.

“What is necessary to Burma is an end to all ethnic conflict, respect for human rights—which would include the release of political prisoners—and the type of development aid that would help to empower our people and take our country further towards the road to genuine democracy.”

‘Historic’ meeting

Ahead of talks with Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, Cameron met for nearly an hour with President Thein Sein at his official residence in the capital Naypyidaw.

Thein Sein called the meeting “historic” and thanked Cameron for his “acknowledgement of [Burma’s] efforts to promote democracy and human rights.”

Cameron is also the first Western head of state to visit Burma since the military seized power in 1962 and the first serving British prime minister to travel there since the country won its independence in 1948.

Following his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Cameron invited the opposition leader to visit Britain in June, which she said she would consider given a lessening likelihood that Burmese authorities would prevent her return.

Britain had traditionally fought for sanctions on Burma due to human rights concerns, and such a dramatic shift in policy will likely convince the other members of the 27-nation European Union to suspend the measures when the group’s foreign ministers meet on April 23.

In February, the EU lifted a travel ban on 87 Burmese officials, including Thein Sein, but kept a freeze on their assets. It also maintains an arms embargo, a ban on gems, and an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities in Burma.

On Thursday, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight world powers—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States—hailed "significant steps" by Burma toward democratic reform.

"The ministers will consider the easing of sanctions to help this country embed reform and fully integrate into international and regional political and economic processes," the group said in a statement following talks in Washington.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English with additional reporting by Joshua Lipes.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Apr 27, 2012 12:33 PM

thanks a million Mr.Cameron, your efforts to exploit Myanmar Natural Resource will come true only when you decide to co-operate with us. From: Cronies of Myanmar