April 20, 2012
By Barney Henderson
European Union diplomats have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to suspend sanctions against Burma for a year, opening up trade and investment with Western firms.
The move comes after 18 months in which Burma’s military junta, which has ruled the country with an iron fist for 50 years, have introduced a swathe of democratic reforms.
A final decision on whether sanctions will be suspended will be taken at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.
“There is now agreement in principle” to “a suspension of all sanctions, except for the arms embargo,” a diplomat close to the talks, who asked not to be identified, told the AFP news agency.
Under the plan, travel bans and asset freezes on regime officials would be lifted. Foreign investment in the country’s rich oil and gas resources as well as in its traditional logging industry would be permitted.
Development and aid money would be allowed into a country that struggles with grinding poverty.
There have been recent splits within the EU over when to remove sanctions on Burma following the actions of the military-backed government President Thein Sein in moving towards democracy since November 2010.
Germany has urged a swift end to sanctions but Britain has previously been keen to maintain leverage in the still army-dominated country.
However, in a press conference last week, Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the suspension of all EU measures – though not the scrapping of the sanctions.
Ms Suu Kyi’s endorsement of the suspension was seen as crucial.
The 12-month suspension period “gives us time to assess the sustainability of reform”, a diplomat said. The ministers are expected to also agree to include the possibility of reviewing the decision in six months.
Western nations eager to reward sweeping reforms that culminated in Ms Suu Kyi’s election to parliament in April 1 by-elections, have already made some reciprocal gestures to encourage Burma’s government.
Once in place, the suspension opens up what many investors see as the next big frontier to European firms.
Photo Credit: The Telegraph