EU Lifts Visa Ban on Top Burmese Leadership
23 January 2012: The Council of the European Union on Monday eased travel restrictions on some top leaders of the new Burmese government in a move that signals the beginning of a new relationship between the world’s most powerful regional grouping and the South East Asian country that has long maintained an international pariah status.
The EU resolution ‘suspended’ visa restrictions for Burma’s President Thein Sein and his entire cabinet members, as well as Speakers of the two Houses of national Parliament. 28 of the 35 cabinet members in the Burmese government were under EU sanctions, according to rights advocacy group Global Justice Center.
However, travel restrictions remain for over 400 individuals and 59 entities considered to be cronies of the previous military regime. Among those remaining on the visa ban list is Chin State Chief Minister ex-Gen Hung Ngai, who was included in the list during his time as Deputy Commander of the Coastal Region Command.
Monday’s EU Council decision was the most significant measure on Burma yet by the 27-member European nations in over 20 years. Unlike the previous ones, which have traditionally been filled with condemnations and additional restrictive measures, the latest decision contains more praise for the new government for its recent reform measures.
It follows similar token gestures by other nations. The United States, which maintains some of the toughest sanctions on Burma, has recently restored full diplomatic relations with Burma. Australia has also lifted travel sanctions on top Burmese officials, while Norway has ended its restriction on Norwegian private business to invest in the resource-rich country.
Describing it as a first step, the EU says that a review is now ongoing to consider additional measures by sometime in April 2012, when it implements the annual review of the sanctions on Burma.
Some of the progress cited by the EU includes the recent release of political prisoners, the introduction of trade union law, improved media freedom and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission.
But the EU also cautions the need for ending conflicts with the ethnic armed groups.
“The Council underlines the need for all actors concerned to establish a credible and sustained process for handling the difficult issues involved in securing long-term peace and national reconciliation.”