* EU ministers agree to lift all sanctions, except arms
* Step could raise pressure on U.S. to follow suit
* Rights group accuses Myanmar authorities of crimes against
By Adrian Croft and Justyna Pawlak
LUXEMBOURG, April 22 The European Union agreed
on Monday to lift all sanctions on Myanmar, except for an arms
embargo, despite a Human Rights Watch report which accused
authorities of complicity in the mass killing of Muslims in the
west of the country last year.
Lifting the sanctions gives more certainty to European firms
contemplating investments in one of the least developed markets
in Asia. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has significant
natural resources and borders economic giants China and India.
The EU's move could put pressure on the United States, which
suspended sanctions in May last year and allowed U.S. companies
to invest through a general licence. Some American executives
have urged Washington to go further and lift sanctions entirely.
The EU lifted its sanctions a year after suspending them in
response to a dramatic series of reforms put in place since
Myanmar's military stepped aside and a quasi-civilian government
was installed in 2011.
"In response to the changes that have taken place and in the
expectation that they will continue, the council (EU
governments) has decided to lift all sanctions with the
exception of the embargo on arms," EU foreign ministers said in
a statement after a meeting in Luxembourg.
But Human Rights Watch accused authorities in Myanmar's
western Rakhine State of crimes against humanity in the ethnic
cleansing of Rohingya Muslims last year, charges the government
dismissed as one-sided and "unacceptable".
Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi said however the clashes should not be tied to
the economic embargo.
"I do not think that we should link the economic sanctions
to the violence, which has a lot to do with rule of law and with
other social political problems."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the progress
made was sufficient to justify lifting the sanctions despite the
"It is absolutely vital to continue work ... to try to stop
this ethnic violence and the European Union countries have a
role to play in that, including in the training of police
forces, where we can help, (and) in promoting dialogue between
faiths," Hague told reporters at the EU meeting.
"The problems of Burma are not over but the progress that
has been made has been substantial enough, is serious enough,
and the government there are sufficiently committed to that, for
us to take this decision," Hague said.
The EU had frozen the assets of nearly 1,000 companies and
institutions in Myanmar and banned almost 500 people from
entering the EU. It also prohibited military-related technical
help and banned investment in the mining, timber and precious
Under President Thein Sein's reforms, Suu Kyi, who spent 15
years under house arrest, has been allowed back into politics.
A succession of foreign leaders, including U.S. President
Barack Obama, have travelled to Myanmar, and the country is
attracting a surge of interest from overseas businesses keen to
enter one of Asia's last untapped markets.
But ethnic violence continues to be a problem.
Rakhine State was swept by sectarian violence last year that
killed at least 110 people and left 120,000 homeless.
Sectarian violence erupted in Myanmar again last month and
43 people were killed. Thousands, mostly Muslims, were driven
from their homes and businesses as bloodshed spread across the
central region of the Buddhist-majority country.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said security forces were
complicit in disarming Rohingya Muslims of makeshift weapons and
standing by, or even joining in, as Rakhine Buddhist mobs killed
men, women and children in June and October 2012.
Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and Myanmar's deputy
Minister of Information, dismissed the report for only taking
news from "one side" in a statement on his Facebook page.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)