Donors play carrot and stick in Myanmar

    Flag of Myanmar. Photo by: Easten Law / CC BY-NC-SA

    Will EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg April 23 take heed of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s call to “respond” to the changes in Myanmar? An expert on democratic development in Southeast Asia believes they will, and that it looks like a done deal.

    Australia announced Monday (April 16) it will “reduce” sanctions and encourage trade in the country. This translates to lifting travel and financial bans on 262 civilians and government officials, including President Thein Sein.

    The United States has already eased several sanctions — albeit incremental — on the Asian nation following the April 1 parliamentary election where Suu Kyi and a majority of her party emerged victors.

    So what about the European Union? EU sanctions are due to expire April 30.

    Cameron said Friday (April 13) he will recommend to the European Union to “suspend” sanctions on Myanmar, following his meeting with Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The prime minister was on a five-day visit in Myanmar, the first head of a Western state to do so since the country’s shift to a civilian government last year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    Jim Della-Giacoma, project director of the International Crisis Group in Southeast Asia, described Cameron’s proposal as a “de facto dropping of sanctions.” He said the foreign ministers’ decision looks like “a fait accompli” given that the call came from one of Europe’s “most hardline countries,” the New Straits Times reports.

    Cameron’s recommendation, however, was very cautious — which was expected. Soldiers linked to the previous military regime dominate the Myanmar parliament. In addition, the government has not released several political prisoners and ethnic conflicts remain — two areas where the United States wants to see progress.

    Cameron called for a “suspension” not “lifting” of sanctions to make it easy for the Western bloc to “re-impose” sanctions in the event reforms do not proceed as expected. Suu Kyi supported his recommendations, saying they make clear to those who oppose reform that sanctions “could come back.” She, however, believes Sein is genuine about reforms.

    Norway adopted the approach Sunday (April 15). Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr said Norway is suspending economic sanctions on Myanmar, a reward for recent developments in the country,Agence France-Presse reports.

    All parties, however, are maintaining their arms embargo.

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    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.