By Zin Linn
The European Union has eased travel restrictions for Burma’s 87 high-ranking officials, including President and vice-presidents.
International sanctions have been imposed on Burma since 1988, when the military harshly cracked down on pro-democracy protests, leaving an estimated 3,000 people dead. The United States and the European Union increased their sanctions after the junta refused to acknowledge the NLD’s victory in 1990 elections and then arrested opponents and suppressed every type of opposition. Most of the sanctions target the top generals in particular.
In addition to the U.S. and EU sanctions, the current army-backed government has suffered various sanctions from Australia, Canada and Japan. It has been left without development assistance from international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asia Development Bank.
The Council said in its press release today that it suspended admission restrictions concerning 87 persons, comprised of the president, the vice presidents, cabinet members and the speakers of the two houses of parliament and their family members. Those individuals remain subject to a freeze of their assets within the EU.
“We have seen historic changes in Burma/Myanmar and we strongly encourage the authorities to continue this process. I have launched a full review of our policy towards Burma/Myanmar, and today’s decision to suspend certain restrictive measures is a reaction to the positive signs coming from the country. I will visit Burma/Myanmar in April after the by-elections, by which time I hope we will have had the chance to complete the review and to have made decisions at an EU level to respond to what I hope will be continued progress,” said Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The decision gave legal effect to an agreement among EU foreign ministers in January to commence easing sanctions on Burma. The ministers also pledged additional action if the reforms keep on.
The Council has welcomed the dialogue between President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It also hailed the changes to the Electoral Law adopted by the Parliament. The Council greeted the NLD’s decision to register as a political party to contest the 1 April by-elections. The EU put together particular importance to the free and fair conduct of these elections.
The EU’s Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs visited Burma on 12 February for a three-day visit to assess the ongoing reforms and to encourage their continuation. He has also announced an aid package of about $200m (£128m) focused on health, education sectors.
Commissioner Piebalgs said that if by-elections in April were free and fair, more sanctions were likely to be eased.
The 27-nation bloc is reviewing its sanctions, which include an arms embargo, a ban on gems and an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities. They are all due to expire on April 30.
Ms Catherine Ashton said she will visit Burma in April following the by-elections in the South-East Asian country.
In the meantime, Burma’s armed forces continue nonstop to attack positions held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the Kachin controlled areas.
Despite President Thein Sein ordered twice to halt the offensive against the Kachin rebels, the Burmese army has continued its aggressive operation against the KIA and Kachin civilians so far. As a consequence, lots of human rights abuses made by government’s soldiers are taking place along the Sino-Burma border where the war-driven refugees run away.
So, some analysts deem that Western democracies should think over and over again regarding lifting of sanctions as a reward for the Burma/Myanmar government if the unjust Kachin offensive failed to stop immediately.