EU Set To Lift Burma Sanctions, Except On Arms

By Adrian Croft & Justyna Pawlak 18 April 2013

BRUSSELS—The European Union is expected to lift all sanctions on Burma next week, except for an arms embargo, in recognition of the “remarkable process of reform” in the country, a document seen by Reuters showed on Wednesday.

The European Union agreed a year ago to suspend most of its sanctions against Burma for a year, but it is now expected to go further by agreeing “to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms,” the document said.

The step, which was agreed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, paving the way for ministerial approval on Monday, will allow European companies to invest in Burma, which has significant natural resources and borders economic giants China and India.

“The EU is willing to open a new chapter in its relations with Myanmar, building a lasting partnership,” said the document, which contains the draft conclusions for Monday’s EU foreign ministers’ meeting.

The European Union had frozen the assets of nearly 1,000 companies and institutions in Burma and banned almost 500 people from entering the European Union. It also prohibited military-related technical help and banned investment in the mining, timber and precious metals sectors.

The United States and other Western countries have been easing sanctions on Burma to reward a wave of political and economic reforms put in place since Burma’s military stepped aside and a quasi-civilian government was installed in 2011.

Under President Thein Sein’s reforms, opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 17 years under house arrest, has been allowed back into politics and has made a number of visits abroad.

A succession of foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama, have traveled to Burma, and the country is attracting a surge of interest from overseas businesses keen to enter one of the last untapped markets in Asia.

In February, Danish brewer Carlsberg said it was returning to Burma following the easing of international sanctions which forced it out of the country in the mid-1990s.

While praising moves toward democracy and government efforts against corruption, the EU document called on Burma to release unconditionally remaining political prisoners.

It also called on the government to deal with inter-communal violence and take urgent action to deal with humanitarian risks facing displaced people in Arakan State, which was swept by sectarian violence last year that killed at least 110 people and left 120,000 homeless.

Sectarian violence erupted again last month and 43 people were killed in Buddhist-majority Burma. Thousands, mostly Muslims, were driven from their homes and businesses as bloodshed spread across the central region of the country.