May 18, 2009 / 8:36 AM / 11 years ago

EU considers toughening Myanmar sanctions

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU ministers considered on Monday whether to toughen sanction on Myanmar over its treatment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but some said only Asian nations could influence the military government to change.

Suu Kyi faced trial on Monday and up to five years in jail after Myanmar’s military government laid new charges against her over an incident involving U.S. citizen John William Yettaw, who is alleged to have spent two days in her house this month.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said EU states were ready to discuss tightening existing sanctions renewed in April.

“We will see what will be the level of discussion and the willingness of member states too. We are ready to move forward,” Kohout told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said tougher steps were in order. “It’s not the moment to lower sanctions, it’s the moment in any case to increase them,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any lowering of sanctions, on the contrary.”

However some ministers and EU officials said only Asian nations could exert a stronger influence on Myanmar.

“Our problem with sanctions on Burma (Myanmar) is that we have sanctions on virtually everything,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. “Our relationship with Burma is nearly non-existent and that makes it somewhat complicated.”

DISCUSSIONS IN HA NOI

He said the EU would discuss Myanmar with foreign ministers from Asia, including Myanmar, next week in Hanoi.

“They are the ones who have the real possibility of influence ... we are dependent on political pressure principally from the neighbors,” Bildt said.

Bildt said efforts by some to impose banking sanctions, which some activists say would be the best way to target Myanmar’s rulers, had not proven to easy.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she did not think additional sanctions would work, but said the bloc would call again for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and should reinforce dialogue with Myanmar’s neighbors.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Suu Kyi was being subjected to a “show trial.”

“We certainly need to work closely with ASEAN colleagues,” he said, referring to the Association of South East Asian Nations. “We also need to make sure that the Burmese regime understands fully the risks that it’s taking.”

Myanmar’s military has ignored international outrage at what critics call trumped-up charges against Suu Kyi, accused of breaking the conditions of her house arrest, which had been due to expire on May 27 after six years of detention.

The EU last month extended for another year a visa ban and asset freezes on the Myanmar military government and its backers, citing human rights and democracy concerns. It has long called for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Editing by Jon Boyle

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