November 21, 2007 / 3:54 PM / 12 years ago

EU backs 'carrot and stick' approach towards Myanmar

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The European Union wants to keep up the pressure on military-ruled Myanmar to bring about democratic reforms and advocates a “carrot and stick” tactic rather than plain sanctions, a top official told Reuters.

The EU this week adopted sanctions against 1,207 firms in Myanmar and expanded visa bans and asset freezes on the country’s military rulers in response to their bloody crackdown on the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years in September.

“There has to be a balanced approach towards Myanmar. On the one hand, there are our sanctions, on the other hand there is the possibility of cooperation,” Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner, said in an interview on Wednesday, ahead of talks with Southeast Asian nations.

Acknowledging the potentially harmful effects of sanctions on the broader population, she said that once the EU was satisfied with the progress of reforms in Myanmar, it could do more to help fight poverty in the Southeast Asian country.

Talks over a free trade agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, and the EU — the region’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States — kicked off in May but have made little progress.

“I don’t think this is directly linked to the trade negotiations and I don’t think this will have a direct impact on them,” Ferrero-Waldner said, adding that ongoing talks with ASEAN members over partnership and cooperation agreements — a basis for a free trade deal — showed that there was progress.

The United States expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s rulers in October and the Senate voted unanimously last week to urge ASEAN to suspend Myanmar.

ASEAN, which prides itself on its policy of “non interference” in other member states’ internal affairs, said Myanmar had to work for a peaceful transition to democracy and address economic problems rather than be punished with sanctions.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU supported a mission by United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari to start talks between Myanmar’s government and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We will keep up the pressure and I expect some debate on this on Thursday,” she said, after meeting Gambari in Singapore on Wednesday night.

“He is the facilitator in a process that we all want to support and that is to get a dialogue going between the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi. From what Mr Gambari has told us there are first steps in this direction.”

Editing by Neil Chatterjee

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