Asia Crisis

EU urges international arms embargo on Myanmar

LUXEMBOURG, April 29 (Reuters) - The European Union called on Tuesday for an international arms embargo on Myanmar's military junta and warned of tougher sanctions if the generals fail to improve human rights.

An EU meeting in Luxembourg noted that the 27-member bloc had a longstanding ban of its own on arms sales to Myanmar and added: "The Council would like to encourage the international community to adopt similar measures."

A European Parliament resolution passed last Thursday called on the European Union to campaign for a worldwide arms embargo. It said the EU embargo was ineffective because the Myanmar military purchases supplies from China, Russia and India.

The parliament also called for broader sanctions to prevent Myanmar's generals using European banks or financial services.

EU governments tightened sanctions on Myanmar after a crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September.

Existing steps target 1,207 firms and include visa bans and asset freezes. The ministers' statement said these would be extended for another year and added:

"The Council reiterates its readiness to review or amend these measures or to introduce further restrictive measures in the light of developments on the ground."

The European Parliament resolution urged EU states to consider a complete ban on new investment, a ban on the provision of insurance services and an embargo on trade in commodities that provide significant revenue to the junta.

Groups like Human Rights Watch have been pushing for banking sanctions coordinated with steps the United States has imposed.

U.S. sanctions have the capacity to refuse access to U.S. financial institutions to any financial institution that services Myanmar's junta. Human Rights Watch says it is important to prevent circumvention via European banks.

The EU foreign ministers called on Myanmar to allow a free debate by all political players ahead of a May 10 referendum on a new constitution and international monitoring of the vote.

They reiterated a call for the release of all political prisoners, including Nobel Prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deplored an increase in intimidation and violence ahead of the referendum.

They also expressed concern that the constitution would restrict eligibility for high office and said only full participation of all stakeholders, including Suu Kyi and ethnic groups, would bring reconciliation and stability.