(Reuters) - A new official human rights body in Myanmar urged the president Tuesday to release “prisoners of conscience” in an open letter in state media, the clearest sign yet that the reclusive state may free political prisoners within days.
The United States, Europe and Australia have made the release of an estimated 2,100 political prisoners a key condition before they would consider lifting sanctions imposed in response to human rights abuses.
Washington’s demands go beyond prisoners, making it unclear whether it would lift sanctions if the prisoners are released and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi withdraws her support for punitive measures.
Here is an overview of existing sanctions on the former Burma and its rulers:
-- The European Union adopted a Common Position on Myanmar in 1996, including a ban on the sale or transfer from the EU of arms or weapons expertise to Myanmar, or of any equipment that might be used for internal repression.
-- EU governments tightened sanctions after a crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, targeting 1,207 firms with measures including visa bans and asset freezes.
In April 2009, the EU extended for another year a visa ban and asset freezes on members of the Myanmar military government and its backers. It has long called for the release of political prisoners.
-- France said last year there should be a global embargo on arms sales to Myanmar and economic sanctions focused on its key exports, timber and rubies. Britain called for the U.N. Security Council to impose a global arms embargo.
-- The EU has added members of the judiciary responsible for Suu Kyi’s extension of house arrest in 2009 to its list of military officials subject to asset freezes and bans on travel.
-- The United States first imposed broad sanctions in 1988 after the junta’s crackdown on student-led protests. It banned new investment in Myanmar by U.S. nationals or entities in 1997.
-- Washington has gradually tightened sanctions to try to force Myanmar’s generals into political rapprochement with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won a landslide election victory in 1990 but was kept out of power.
-- President Barack Obama renewed the U.S. sanctions in May last year. Washington has said sanctions will be reassessed if the government formed after last year’s election made major efforts to improve the country’s human rights record.
-- In July 2008, the Treasury moved to block the assets and transactions of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and the Myanmar Economic Corp and their subsidiaries.
-- The moves banned American individuals and businesses from transactions with the firms and froze any assets they had under U.S. jurisdiction.
-- The Burma Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 banned all imports from Myanmar, restricted financial transactions, froze the assets of certain Myanmar financial institutions and extended visa restrictions on junta officials.
AUSTRALIA - Since October 2007, Australia has implemented sanctions against members of Myanmar’s leadership and their associates and supporters.
Sanctions currently cover: targeted financial sanctions (implemented by the Reserve Bank of Australia), restrictions on financial transactions involving Myanmar’s leadership and its associates and restrictions on visas and travel to Australia.
CANADA -- Imposed sanctions in November 2007 banning exports to Myanmar, except for humanitarian goods, and barring imports. It froze the Canadian assets of Myanmar citizens connected with the junta. Canada also prohibited the provision of financial services and the export of technical data to Myanmar and banned new investment by Canadians.
NEW ZEALAND -- Has a long-standing ban on visas for military leaders and their families.
JAPAN -- Japan froze new development assistance to Myanmar in 2003, while continuing humanitarian aid. It restored development help in June and the Foreign Ministry said it may make further moves if political prisoners are released.
ASIA -- Most Asian governments have favored a policy of engagement toward Myanmar and southeast Asian countries have called for Western sanctions to be lifted.
Compiled by Asia Desk, Singapore
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