Saturday, March 19, 2011

EU diplomats talk sanctions with Burma's Suu Kyi

European diplomats held talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other Burma activists on Tuesday about the possible lifting of Western sanctions, an opposition party leader said.

About 25 European Union diplomats from Bangkok, including nine ambassadors, as well as locally based diplomats attended the meeting in Rangoon, according to Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF).

He was present at the talks along with Suu Kyi, the opposition Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai and three ethnic minority party representatives.

"We mainly discussed lifting sanctions. They (the diplomats) asked whether the government would get more benefits if they lifted sanctions," he told AFP.

"They did not argue anything but noted it down. They seemed to reconsider."

The release of Suu Kyi from house arrest in November after a widely criticised election has reignited debate over the sanctions, enforced notably by the EU and the United States in response to human rights abuses.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), "didn't commit much" to Tuesday's discussion, according to Khin Maung Swe, whose party is a breakaway group from the NLD.

"But sometimes she asked to 'wait and see' when she replied to some questions," he said.

An NLD spokesman, Ohn Kyaing, said the party had no details to release about the meeting, but a European diplomat in Rangoon said the talks were aimed at "creating interactions" between Burma's opposition parties.

"Everyone kept to their positions," the diplomat told AFP, declining to be named. "They are not used to discussing and negotiating among themselves so the dialogue was not easy. This is not in their culture."

Khin Maung Swe said he told the diplomats that people had been suffering because of sanctions.

"They asked which kind of sanctions we would like to be lifted. I said especially those on trade and investment as they really affect the people."

Global think-tank International Crisis Group said this month that two decades of Western sanctions against Burma had been "highly counterproductive" and needed an urgent overhaul.

Supporters of the trade and financial sanctions say they are the only way to pressure the military rulers of Burma, where there are about 2,200 political prisoners.

Suu Kyi's party appealed in February for talks with the West about sanctions, but suggested they were not hurting the economy and said any changes should be linked to an improvement in human rights.

Her party has no voice in a newly opened parliament dominated by the military and its proxies. It was disbanded for opting to boycott the November vote because the rules seemed designed to bar Suu Kyi from participating.

The United States said last month that calls to ease sanctions on Burma were premature.

Source: Bangkok Post

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