Sanctions on Burma

EU and Japan set new Burma sanctions

By James Blitz in London and Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

Published: October 15 2007 08:29 Last updated: October 16 2007 06:00

Japan on Tuesday cancelled an aid grant to Burma, hours after the European Union implemented new trade sanctions designed to hurt Burma’s political elite and US President George W Bush called for coordinated action.
As the United Nations special envoy to Burma called on the junta to cease its witch-hunt of pro-democracy demonstrators, EU foreign ministers announced a string of sanctions aimed at halting those trade sectors from which the regime benefits heavily.
For a decade, the EU has imposed a range of sanctions on Burma, the main elements of which are a travel ban on leading regime figures, a freeze on their assets and a ban on EU trade with prominent state companies.
The new EU sanctions in response to the violent internal repression of dissidents will take immediate effect and mean the bloc will cease to import Burmese wood products, high-value metals and minerals and precious stones. It will also impose export and investment bans on these sectors.
Masahiko Komura, Japanese foreign minister, said his government had cancelled a Y552m ($4.7m) grant for a business education centre at Yangon University. Japan has been among Burma’s leading aid donors, but Mr Komura said: ”We need to show the Japanese government’s position. We cannot take action supporting the military government at this stage.”
A Japanese video journalist covering pro-democracy protests was killed in the crackdown.
Mr Bush meanwhile said at a forum in Arkansas: ”We have sanctioned individuals within Burma and are considering additional sanctions. But sanctions don’t mean anything if we’re the only sanctioner.”
What is needed, he said, is ”enormous international pressure to make it clear to the generals that they will be completely isolated and not accepted into the international community of nations.”
Senior diplomats acknowledged the EU sanctions affect only a small part of Burmese trade, amounting to just 1.5 per cent of Burmese exports. EU imports across these sectors amounted to less than €60m ($85m, £42m) in 2006, according to Eurostat figures. However, EU member states were determined not to impose sanctions that would hurt the Burmese population, nearly all of which is employed in the agricultural sector.
“We know the timber and mining sectors are dominated by the state and that the regime benefits disproportionately heavily from revenues in these industries,” said a senior EU diplomat. “This will, therefore, have an impact on the revenues of people at the top of the regime.”
The diplomat added: “This will also send an important political signal of intent by the EU. It is an indication that we take what has happened extremely seriously.”
Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy to Burma, on Monday called on the ruling military junta to halt its relentless crackdown on ¬dissidents, describing the arrests of prominent democracy activists in recent days as “extremely disturbing”.
Speaking from Bangkok at the beginning of a trip to coordinate Asian ¬responses to the Burmese crisis, Mr Gambari called for a halt to interrogations and acts of intimidation that “run counter to the spirit of mutual engagement” between the UN and Burma.
“These acts must stop at once,” Mr Gambari said. “The UN calls on the ¬Myanmar government to release all political detainees, including those arrested during the demonstrations, and allow access by the ICRC [International Committee for the Red Cross] to those in detention.”
Burma’s junta has been under pressure since last month’s brutal suppression of protest marches led by Buddhist monks and other citizens, who took to the streets in a show of discontent with their deepening impoverishment and lack of political freedom.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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