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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs   16 April  2012

Cameron : “Time to suspend some sanctions”

13 April 2012
British Prime Minister David Cameron said it’s time “to suspend” some sanctions against Burma because “there is a real prospect of change in the country,” in remarks during a press conference with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside home in Rangoon on Friday.
In a new wording that departed from recent statements, the prime minister said, it’s right to “suspend sanctions, to suspend them, not to lift them,” according to press reports.

Cameron, according to the BBC, said it was right to respond to signs of change “with care,” adding: “All courses of action are full of risk, but I think this is the right step forward.” Previously, Cameron said he would support some lifting of sanctions by the E.U. as a “reward” for Burma’s consistent movement toward democratic reforms. The E.U. will review its sanctions policy on April 23.

Cameron told Suu Kyi: "It is good that you have the by-elections and many congratulations on your successful elections. But clearly, we all look forward to the general election in 2015. It is good that there has been some progress with the terrible ethnic conflicts that have harmed this country so many years. Clearly, we need to see a real political solution in this country in the months and years to come."
Asked to be more specific about a "suspension" of sanctions, Cameron said: "The argument that we will be making with our European Union colleagues is that when the sanctions come up for ending in April that we will instead of lifting the sanctions enirely, we should suspend them so to make sure that they are still capable of being put back in place. So they should be suspended. And these sanctions' suspension should cover everything apart from  the arms embargo. I think this will give a great level of certainty and clarity. It will show to the regime that we would respect and welcome the progress that have been made on political prisoners, on political freedom, but it is suspension not lifting, and so if the progress is not irreversible, then sanctions could be reimposed. Let me be clear that this covers everything apart from the arms embargo."  

He also praised Suu Kyi, calling her “an inspiration for people across the world.”

Suu Kyi replied: “I support the idea of suspension of sanctions rather than lifting of sanctions because this would be an acknowledgment of the role of the president and other reformists. This suspension of sanctions would have taken place because of the steps that are taken by the president and other reformists, and it will aslo make it quite clear to those who are against the reforms that should they try to obstruct the way of the reformers, then sanctions could come back. So, this would strengthen the hand of the reformers, not just the suspension but the fact that there is always a possibility that sanctions could come back again if the reformers are not allowed to proceed smoothly."

Cameron said it is “right” for the world to support change in Burma and called for more political prisoners to be released.

The PM also invited Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, to visit Britain in June. The opposition leader has not left the country for more than two decades, in fear she would not be allowed to return; she spent the majority of time under house arrest.

British officials, fresh in from prosperous Singapore, landed in Naypyitaw, the isolated capital, on Friday morning, where they were struck by the eerie silence and empty streets on the way to their meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein, according to press reports.

Cameron met the president, a former general, in a spacious reception hall decorated in the manner of Asian royalty. Prior to his arrival, Cameron, the first head of state to visit Burma since it formed an elected government in March 2011, had praised Thein Sein as a sincere reformer who needed a “reward” at this time to counter more conservative forces in the government and the powerful military, which still dominates the country’s affairs.

Following a visit in December by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cameron’s trip is the strongest signal yet that sanctions against the previous military regime are in the process of being lifted or suspended.

Cameron was expected to offer to provide support for Burma's peace and reconciliation process, with experts involved in the Northern Ireland peace process helping advise different groups on holding substantive dialogue with the aim of securing permanent cease-fires, The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.

Britain will also offer support for better and stronger governance by training officials on sound public financial management, on the rule of law and strengthening parliamentary democracy, involving a parliamentary exchange programme, the newspaper reported.

Officials said Cameron would tell Thein Sein the package of measures could only be introduced if the EU relaxes its sanctions, something Cameron is expected to support to a limited extent. The E.U. arms embargo will not be altered, officials said.

The Press Association said President Thein Sein told Cameron through a translator: “This visit of your excellency is significant and historical in our bilateral relations. We are very encouraged, and we are most appreciative of your kind acknowledgement towards Myanmar.”

Some European sanctions could be lifted relatively soon, officials said, especially in the areas of tourism, trade, financial aid and infrastructure development. Washington’s complex sanctions regime, some of it in place since Burma’s opposition won the 1990 elections that were annulled by the junta, may take more time to change.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week Washington would allow select Burma officials to visit and ease restrictions on the export of financial services. But she also said sanctions against people and institutions in Burma that try to thwart democratic progress would remain.

On Friday, Wai Hnin of Burma Campaign UK told BBC News that sanctions have been essential in moving the government to democratic change and should be relaxed cautiously. Hnin said: “We have seen changes in recent years, but it means the sanctions are working. To remove all the sanctions would be a little bit silly - I'm afraid that these changes will stop.”

She pointed out “there is no democratic system in Burma yet,” and said that Cameron's trip was “a reward to the government in Burma” that needed to be matched with more pressure for democratic reform.

“It's important for him [Cameron] to address the human rights abuses that are still going on in Burma,” she said, also mentioning political prisoners and attacks on ethnic minorities.

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