LONDON – The European Union has decided to suspend its wide-ranging sanctions against Myanmar for one year in recognition of the “historic” steps the southeast Asian nation has taken towards political reform, officials said Monday.
The 27-member bloc will lift measures targeting almost 500 individuals and more than 800 companies from Myanmar, although an embargo on arms sales is to remain in place, the Agence France Presse reports.
The move follows similar decisions by the United States and Australia, and is aimed at rewarding the country’s efforts to move forward with democratic reforms following decades of military rule.
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In a statement released Monday by the Council of the European Union at a ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, the EU said:
"The European Union has followed with respect and appreciation the historic changes in Myanmar/Burma over the past year and encourages the wide-ranging reforms to continue."
"As a means to welcome and encourage the reform process, the council will suspend restrictive measures imposed on the government, with the exception of the arms embargo, which it will retain."
The EU insisted it would continue to "monitor closely the situation on the ground" and keep its measures under review, noting that it still "expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released."
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The decision will take effect later this week and was announced on the same day that Myanmar’s newly-elected parliament convened, although members of prominent pro-democracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) have boycotted proceedings due to a dispute over the language of the parliamentary oath, The Guardian reports.
The NLD want to swear to “respect" rather than “safeguard” Myanmar’s constitution, which they say is undemocratic.
Ohn Kyaing, NLD spokesperson and a recently-elected parliamentarian, told the BBC: “Only after the wording in the oath has been changed will we be able to attend the parliament.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also announced on Monday that he would be visiting Myanmar this weekend to encourage reforms and promote its transition to democracy, according to the Associated Press.
After meeting with the Group of Friends of Myanmar, which includes Myanmar's trading partners and countries pushing for human rights reforms in the country, Ban made the announcement.
He said, "I have accepted an invitation from President Thein Sein to visit Myanmar. I will depart at the end of this week," according to Reuters.
Ban welcomed the easing of sanctions but said that Myanmar's "fresh start is still fragile."