EU sanctions on Burma extended

The European Union announced yesterday that it had extended its sanctions on Burma following the ruling junta’s refusal to meet demands for democratic reform.

The sanctions have been extended for one year, according to a statement released following a Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg that has been hailed by pro-democracy groups.

“The Council deems it necessary to extend the restrictive measures provided for in the current EU Decision by another year. The Council underlines its readiness to revise, amend or reinforce the measures it has already adopted in light of developments on the ground,” it said, adding that it would “respond positively to genuine progress in Burma/Myanmar”.

The exact criteria for “genuine progress” has not been clarified, although EU ministers have repeatedly call for elections this year to be free and fair, and to be accompanied by the release of Burma’s 2,100-plus political prisoners.

Rights groups have however criticized apparently “soft” EU sanctions on Burma that have failed to stop French oil giant Total from operating Burma’s lucrative Yadana gas pipeline. EarthRights International (ERI) believe that Total, along with its partner in the project, US-based Chevron, have netted the junta around $US7.2 billion.

In May last year the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner told parliament that ramping up sanctions on Burma risked hurting Total and in turn gas supplies to Burmese people.

Continued foreign investment in Burma, notably from China, has dampened the impact of sanctions, with the US and EU unable to rein in Burma’s regional neighbours whose ongoing trade has provided a crutch for the regime in the face of Western isolation.

Burma Campaign UK said yesterday however that relaxing sanctions would “give a green light to the generals to increase human rights abuses, help finance increased abuses, and give up potential leverage against the regime”.

“The problem with EU sanctions is that most are not effectively targeted, have not been used as part of coordinated diplomatic efforts, and those sanctions which could be effective are being broken, as there is no monitoring or implementation.”

It added that the EU statement made no mention of any attempts by EU ministers to correct this.

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