Monday, April 27, 2009

EU set to extend Burma sanctions

By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Luxembourg

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for most of the past 19 years

The EU is to extend sanctions against Burma and renew calls for the release of political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But at a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers are also expected to signal their readiness for high-level talks with Burmese military rulers.

Such talks would depend on signs of any democratic progress, officials said.

The foreign ministers will also discuss the political crisis in Moldova and Croatia's stalled EU membership talks.

EU sanctions against Burma have been in place for three years, including a travel ban on the country's top officials, an arms embargo and a freeze of Burmese assets in Europe.

They were boosted in 2007, after a crackdown on protests by Buddhist monks, to include a ban on exports of timber, metals and precious stones.

Time to talk?

Foreign ministers are set to renew them for another year, while calling for the immediate release of over 2,000 political prisoners, including opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

With general elections planned for next year, EU diplomats say Burma is yet to take the steps needed to make them credible and inclusive.

But in a draft statement, the EU has signalled its readiness to respond to any genuine progress, offering the prospect of ministerial talks on the margins of a regional meeting in Hanoi next month.

The foreign ministers will also discuss political crises with neighbouring countries - the violent unrest earlier this month in the former Soviet republic of Moldova which has led to increased tensions with EU member Romania, and Croatia's membership talks, stalled by a border row with Slovenia.

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