Myanmar asks EU to lift sanctions

Myanmar President Thein Sein on Tuesday asked the European Union to do away with sanctions on his country and continue helping the once-pariah state down the road to democracy, as he vowed to carry on with needed reforms during his first visit to Brussels.

  • Published: 5/03/2013 at 08:16 PM
  • Newspaper section: breakingnews

"We face many challenges, but you have my promise: we will continue along this path and we will succeed," Thei Sein said. "My government will do everything in its power to see Myanmar become a democratic and prosperous and peaceful nation."

Right now though, Myanmar is "one of the poorest countries in the world" and requires international help - though it has "no desire of becoming an aid-dependent country," he noted.

Thein Sein called on the EU to help by approving as quickly as possible a proposal to restore Myanmar's preferential trade status, which it lost in 1979 due to violations of international agreements on forced labour under military junta leadership.

The measure would grant Myanmar - alternatively referred to as Burma - duty-free and quota-free access to the European market for all products except arms and ammunitions.

The EU will additionally look at the possibility of a "bilateral investment agreement" with Myanmar, EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

But Thein Sein also called during a press conference with Van Rompuy for the bloc to go even further and "lift the economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar."

EU foreign ministers last April agreed to suspend for a year most of the decades-old sanctions - keeping in place only an arms embargo - in recognition of the democratic progress since Thein Sein came to power in 2011.

Going with a temporary suspension allowed the EU to reinstate sanctions quickly in case Myanmar were to make a democratic U-turn. Some observers had questioned whether the country's military would allow the dramatic changes to continue.

Van Rompuy and Barroso both welcomed the "historic" transition that remains underway in the country, with the commission president saying he is "really convinced of (the) determination" of Myanmar authorities.

Elections in 2015 and the handling of minorities are among the issues that will prove key going forward, the EU leaders said.

"The expectations of the people of Myanmar, but also of the international community - particularly here in Europe - are very high," Van Rompuy noted.

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