British PM calls for suspending Myanmar sanctions

Associated Press Modified: April 13, 2012 at 9:45 am •  Published: April 13, 2012
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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that he would support suspending the European Union's economic sanctions on Myanmar, which are to be reviewed by the end of the month.

Cameron spoke after meetings with the country's reform-minded president, Thein Sein, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime political prisoner who was recently elected to parliament in Myanmar, a former British colony.

However, Cameron specified that he did not want to see an arms embargo on Myanmar be lifted as part of any easing of sanctions. The embargo, along with economic and political sanctions, was imposed during the repressive rule of the country's previous military government.

"We know there is still much, much more needed to be done, as the president himself has acknowledged, that there are more changes that need to be made," Cameron said at a news conference after meeting with Suu Kyi. "The right thing for the world to do is to encourage the change and to believe in the possibility of peaceful progress towards democracy."

By talking of suspending rather than lifting sanctions, Cameron was making clear the move would be a provisional one that could easily be withdrawn, if judged necessary.

Western nations have held out the prospect of easing sanctions if Thein Sein, a former general who retains close ties to the military, continues the political liberalization he began after taking office a year ago. Foreign investors as well as Myanmar entrepreneurs expect a business boom when restrictions are lifted.

Cameron, speaking with Suu Kyi by his side, told reporters that he had met with Thein Sein and concluded "there are prospects of change in Burma, and I think it is right for the rest of the world to respond to those changes. It is right to suspend the sanctions there are against Burma." He added that the suspension would "obviously" not include ending the arms embargo. Burma is the former name for Myanmar.

Thein Sein's reforms are seen as being mainly driven by a desire for sanctions to be lifted, with those imposing them gradually easing restrictions in return for more reforms, which so far have included the freeing of many political prisoners and reconciliation with Suu Kyi's pro-democracy movement.

If the EU, which is scheduled to take up the issue on April 23, suspends sanctions, it will put pressure on the United States to do likewise, for competitive business reasons. Both the EU and the U.S. restrict investment and trade with Myanmar, along with a slew of more targeted measures aimed at Myanmar military figures involved with repression, and their families and business cronies.

Suu Kyi — who attended Oxford and whose late husband was British — endorsed Cameron's approach.