EU executive hints at easing of Myanmar sanctions

BRUSSELS Mon Apr 2, 2012 9:17am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission hinted on Monday that the bloc's foreign ministers would begin lifting sanctions on Myanmar when they meet in three weeks time after a year of reforms that culminated in electoral gains for the opposition on Sunday.

The party of Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won by-elections by a landslide, Myanmar's election commission announced on Monday. Elections judged free and fair are seen one of the final steps demanded by the West before it eases sanctions.

"We do expect the foreign ministers will recognize the changes and there will be a positive signal from the Council," EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told a regular daily news briefing.

"The restrictive measures that we have in place expire ... at the end of April and it will be for the Foreign Affairs Council to decide unanimously how to address this issue, and the extent to which sanctions are eased and lifted."

Already this year Myanmar's government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, held talks with ethnic minority rebels, relaxed media censorship, allowed trade unions to operate and showed signs of pulling away from China's economic and political orbit.

The European Union currently bans the sale of weapons to Myanmar as well as supplies for its logging and mining sectors. EU sanctions also restrict aid and freeze the country out of a preferential trading agreement for less-developed countries.

EU diplomats said some measures could stay in place after the foreign affairs ministers' meeting on April 23, particularly the arms embargo.

Others measures, such as the restrictions on mining and logging, as well as aid, could be scrapped. Sanctions against some of the 500 people and a thousand companies and institutions targeted by the EU could also be lifted, they said.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Robin Emmott; Editing by Ben Harding)

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