Friday, 15 November 2019

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EU members divided over sanctions against Burma: Opposition

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The visit of European diplomats’ to Burma’s opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Wednesday indicates the EU’s divided stand in dealing with the Burmese military junta in the wake of the United States’ recent policy shift, an opposition leader said.

On Wednesday, 20 European diplomats led by Sweden paid a rare visit to the headquarters of the NLD in a mission to find out the stand of the NLD on sanctions and the forthcoming 2010 elections.

Khin Maung Swe, a Central Executive Committee member of the NLD said, “They asked us on how the NLD views Aung San Suu Kyi’s cooperation to help ease sanctions, and whether the NLD is seeking power-sharing with the junta in making a demand to revise the 2008 constitution.”

While the NLD CEC’s answers were predictable, Khin Maung Swe said the visit was part of the EU’s effort to find useful information in helping Burma to achieve democracy but it could also indicate a division among the EU countries on how to go about Burma.

European diplomats  made the visit after the ruling junta allowed detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet diplomats from the US, UK and Australia on October 9.

Win Tin, a veteran journalist and a CEC member of the NLD said on Friday, the division among the EU member countries over sanctions against Burma seems to have prompted the delegation to make a fact finding mission.

“Since the US has changed its policy towards Burma, it seems that some EU countries want to act in the same way,” Win Tin said. “That’s why they came and find out NLD’s view on sanctions against the regime.”

EU firstly adopted a Common Position in 1996, which contains a series of restrictive measures including arms embargo, a visa ban and a freeze on funds held by Burmese generals and its associates.

Following the sentencing of the Nobel Peace Laureate on August 11, the European Council adopted additional restrictive measures, which targets members of the judiciary responsible for the verdict and added them in the existing list of persons and entities subject to a travel ban and to an assets freeze.

But the EU has left the channel open, saying it is ready to respond positively if the Burmese generals release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, essential for national reconciliation and to expedite political change in Burma.

The London-based Burma Campaign UK earlier said EU had long been divided over sanctions, as some countries are not interested in human rights but are willing to go in for trade with Burma.

“Some of the EU member countries wanted to relax pressure on Burmese generals. Some favour increasing pressure,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK.

According to BCUK’s earlier report, a handful of countries, the UK, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, have favoured increasing pressure to various degrees while countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Poland have opposed increasing pressure and even favour reducing existing measures taken by the EU against the Burmese regime.

“There is an argument that sanctions against Burma had created problems in their relations with China,” Farmaner said.

Farmaner said some of the EU countries are misunderstanding the US’s policy shift towards Burma.

Meanwhile, Western diplomats in Rangoon told Mizzima that EU is likely to hold a meeting in Brussels on how to deal with Burma in the near future.

“It seems a very complicated issue as to how EU will modify policy on Burma now,” diplomats said, “Things are still going on but so far, we have not agreed yet on any fundamental change.”

Washington last month announced that it will engage directly with the Burmese military regime while maintaining existing sanctions imposed on them in a bid to achieve political reforms in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed US’ new policy and proposed to the Burmese military supremo Than Shwe to help in lifting sanctions and requested to allow her a meeting with representatives of US, EU and Australia to learn more about sanctions.  

Than Shwe responded by arranging a series of meetings with the junta’s Liaison Minister Aung Kyi and also allowed a meeting with US, UK and Australian diplomats.

“Sanctions have pushed the generals to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi. Without sanctions there will not be even this talk,” Farmaner said.

A European diplomat in Rangoon said, the EU is also keeping a close watch over the talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese generals and are waiting for signs of progress.

“In terms of policy change, right now we are waiting for something to happen,” the diplomat added.


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