EU to adopt Burma election statement

The European Union is today due to formally adopt a statement in which it expresses “serious concern” about elections in Burma this year whilst eyeing the possibility of sending a senior delegation to meet with the ruling generals.

A diplomatic source told AFP that the EU will urge the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to accept the “exploratory mission”, although didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the visit, nor the proposed date.

The statement also calls on Burma’s military leaders “to cooperate fully” with Piero Fassino, the bloc’s special envoy to the country.

Various members of the EU have individually criticised election laws which effectively block the country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), from running, but this is the first collective statement released since the laws were announced in March.

“The EU believes that despite everything there is room for manoeuvre,” the European diplomat said. “But we are only prepared to go there if we are received at the highest level. We are not prepared to be humiliated.”

The comment likely refers to Than Shwe, the reclusive ruling general who often avoids contact with foreign diplomats visiting Burma. The source may also be hinting at a meeting with detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose strict house arrest rules bar her from contact with outsiders, although this was lifted temporarily last year when she met with US senator Jim Webb.

The EU announced in December last year that it would begin “sustained political dialogue” with the Burmese junta, following a similar announcement by the US. Washington has since expressed regret at the apparent lack of progress made by the junta, particularly in light of the restrictive election laws.

The EU’s decision to break with years of isolation came in the wake of Fassino’s trip to the country in November, in which he reported that a “window of opportunity” appeared to have opened which should not be missed by concerned countries.

But the laws have sparked international outrage, with many Western countries offering their support for the NLD’s decision not to participate in the polls. Nineteen political parties have so far registered for the elections, none of which are outwardly in opposition to the incumbent government.

The majority of parties are members of the so-called ‘third force’, allied to neither the opposition nor the military government, although many are believed to hold ties to the ruling generals.

With critics deriding the elections as a sham intended to cement military rule in Burma under the guise of a civilian government, it remains uncertain what level of input or leverage these parties will hold.

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