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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        24  March 2011

Sanctions against Myanmar seen as highly counterproductive

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According to media sources in Yangon, European diplomats held talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other Myanmar activists on Tuesday about the possible lifting of Western sanctions, an opposition party leader said.

About 25 European Union diplomats from Bangkok, including some from France, Germany, Italy as well as locally based ambassadors, attended the meeting in Yangon, according to Khin Maung Swe, Leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF).

He was present at the talks along with Aung San 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 Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in November 2010 after a widely criticised election has re-ignited a debate over the sanctions, enforced notably by the EU and the United States in response to human rights abuses.

Nobel peace laureate Aung San 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 Yangon said the talks were aimed at "creating interactions" between Myanmar'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 Myanmar had been "highly counterproductive" and needed an urgent overhaul.

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