EU eyes 'substantial' removal of Myanmar sanctions: diplomat
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union is leaning towards substantially lifting sanctions against Myanmar this month following landmark elections, a senior EU diplomat told AFP on Tuesday.
EU ambassadors debated on Tuesday whether some, or all, of the punitive measures should be removed as a reward for Sunday's by-elections and recent reforms undertaken by the quasi-civilian regime in Myanmar, diplomats said.
"Everybody is on the same page for a substantial lifting of sanctions, with some red lines," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity after the talks, noting that an arms embargo would remain in place.
"While political reconciliation appears on the way, we continue to demand the release of prisoners and the end of ethnic minority conflicts," the diplomat added.
The 27-nation bloc has congratulated Myanmar, once known as Burma, over the elections and held out the prospect of further easing sanctions, with an EU spokeswoman saying foreign ministers would send a "positive signal" when they meet on April 23.
The party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, swept the elections, becoming the main opposition force in the national parliament with the veteran dissident winning her first seat.
In February, the EU lifted a travel ban on 87 Myanmar officials, including President Thein Sein, in an effort to encourage more political reforms but kept an assets freeze against them.
The other sanctions, including the arms embargo, a ban on gems and an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities, are all due to expire on April 30.
Thein Sein, a former junta premier, has overseen a series of reforms since his nominally civilian government took power a year ago, marking the end of decades of outright military rule.
Another EU diplomat said some nations have argued for all sanctions to be removed, but Britain, Myanmar's former colonial ruler, and Nordic nations are advocating a "gradual, step-by-step" approach to ensure reforms continue.
Britain and the Nordic countries want to maintain the arms embargo and sanctions against individuals who are still committing human rights abuses, the diplomat said.
Although Myanmar has made progress in recent months, some EU countries "need to see more reforms," the EU diplomat said, adding that "there are still a number of human rights abuses happening."
Other nations, like France, wanted to go further in easing sanctions, another diplomat said.
Since a unanimous agreement is required among the 27 EU states, nations "will have to adapt to the discussion" to find a compromise, the diplomat said.
EU states will take into account the "political dynamic of the legislative elections," the source added.
The discussions on the sanctions will continue next week at the level of EU experts in preparation for the ministerial talks.
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