EU considers tougher sanctions in wake of Aung San Suu Kyi trial

The EU will consider tightening sanctions on Burma in the wake of the ruling junta's decision to bring new charges against pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung is on trial for allegedly breaching the terms of her house arrest.


Reuters - EU ministers agreed on Monday to look at how sanctions on Myanmar might be toughened over its treatment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but some said only Asian nations could influence the military government.


Suu Kyi went on trial on Monday, facing up to five years in jail after Myanmar's government said she had broken the terms of her house arrest in connection with an incident involving U.S. citizen John William Yettaw, who is alleged to have spent two days in her house this month.


British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called it a "show trial" and said after the foreign ministers' meeting:


"We have an agreement to investigate more sanctions", adding that a review of Myanmar's participation in Asia Europe (ASEM) meetings would also take place.


Earlier the minister declared the EU had to make sure the Burmese government understood "fully the risks that it's taking."


EU ministers discussed ways that existing sanctions, which include visa bans and asset freezes on the military government and its backers, might be reinforced, but reached no decisions.


"They agreed to look at what could be done in future," an EU diplomat said, adding that ministers reiterated a call for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.


EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters tougher steps were in order. "It's not the moment to lower sanctions, it's the moment in any case to increase them," he said.


Asian influence needed


However some ministers and EU officials said only Asian nations could exert a stronger influence on Myanmar.


"Our problem with sanctions on Burma (Myanmar) is that we have sanctions on virtually everything," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "Our relationship with Burma is nearly non-existent and that makes it somewhat complicated."


He said EU ministers would discuss Myanmar with counterparts from Asia, including Myanmar, next week in Hanoi.


"They are the ones who have the real possibility of influence ... we are dependent on political pressure principally from the neighbours," Bildt said.


Bildt said efforts by some to impose banking sanctions, which some activists say would be the best way to target Myanmar's rulers, had not proven to easy.


Activist group Burma Campaign UK said there were several ways EU sanctions could be made more effective.


They included putting judges and officials involved in the trial of political prisoners on the banned list, banning EU firms from providing insurance in Myanmar, placing sanctions on financial transactions, and banning all new investment in the country, including in the oil and gas sector.


It said the EU should press for U.N. Security Council action, and work for a global arms embargo


"We are often told the generals are immune to pressure," said the group's director Mark Farmaner. "The truth is we have had a lot of fine words, but not much practical action. It is time that changed."


EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she did not think additional sanctions would work.


Myanmar's military has ignored international outrage at what critics call trumped-up charges against Suu Kyi, accused of breaking the conditions of her house arrest, which had been due to expire on May 27 after six years of detention.


The EU extended existing sanctions for a year last month.



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