Wednesday, April 23, 2008

EU mulls new Myanmar sanctions, as constitution vote closes in

STRASBOURG (AFP) - The European Union is preparing to extend and even boost sanctions against Myanmar, the EU's Slovenian presidency said Wednesday.

"I hope that the sanctions regime will be extended for 12 months," Slovenian state secretary for European affairs Janez Lenarcic told members of the European Parliament.

"Discussions are underway in the council (of EU ministers) for the biggest possible financial sanctions," European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot told the assembly in Strasbourg.

The EU's sanctions, adopted on November 19, included an embargo on the import of timber, gems and metals from Myanmar. It also extended the list of Myanmar leaders and their relatives subject to a travel ban and assets freeze.

EU foreign ministers are to debate them at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday and Tuesday, and could choose to broaden, them based on the military junta's conduct in the future.

Lenarcic, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, urged the regime to allow public debate on its new draft constitution, to be put to a referendum on May 10, and end an opposition crackdown.

"The European Union continues to hope that the Myanmar authorities will allow a free and fair referendum and that they will allow international observers to be deployed," he said.

"Only a genuine, open democratisation process can lead to national reconciliation, stability and prosperity," he said.

"We call on the authorities to cease condemning political activists and to repeal the law banning criticism of the government," he added. "We also expect the Myanmar authorities to release political prisoners."

The call comes just weeks ahead of the plebiscite on a constitution that activists say was drafted with no public input, and simply enshrines the military's role in the country it has ruled for nearly half a century.

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