|Author (Person)||Islam, Shada|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.4, 25.1.01, p5|
THE European Union is sending a fact-finding team to visit Burma next week, amid rising hopes that the country's ruling junta could use the occasion to ease restrictions on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The EU party, led by Swedish foreign ministry official Börje Lunggren, has been promised a meeting with Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who has been confined to her home since last September.
Discussions are also scheduled with representatives of Burma's ethnic minorities and members of the military government.
The EU visit, which starts on Monday (29 January), comes amid signs that Burma's generals may be ready to end years of political deadlock in the country.
The United Nations special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, says the junta has been holding unprecedented secret discussions with Suu Kyi and the NLD since last October and may be readyto kick-start a long-awaited political transformation of the country.
This new flexibility has prompted hopes that the regime will seize the opportunity offered by the EU visit to end Suu Kyi's house arrest and free two other jailed senior NLD leaders. "It would not be at all surprising if the Burmese government announces an easing of restrictions on the NLD leader either just before, during or after the EU visit," said one diplomat.
Given the new mood in Rangoon, the Union's fact-finding team is likely to do more than collect information. EU governments are expected to press the junta to go one step further and start a breakthrough dialogue with the opposition. "We have long said that the only political solution for Burma must come through internal dialogue," said an EU diplomat. "Now that we see a dialogue starting between the government and the opposition, we can only be happy."
But European governments remain fiercely critical of the policies of the military junta, including its human rights record, use of forced labour and refusal to relinquish power to the democratic opposition.
Rangoon still faces a range of tough EU sanctions, including a ban on sales of arms and weapons that can be used for internal repression, restrictions on granting visas to government representatives and a freeze on the military leaders' financial assets in Europe.
The sanctions are set to be reviewed in April. The Union is likely to keep up the pressure but any signs of a real change in Rangoon's attitude towards the opposition could be rewarded, perhaps by the launch of regular EU-Burma political consultations.
The EU visit was given the go-ahead by Burma's military authorities last December following a ministerial meeting in Laos between the Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Burma is also a member.
The European Union is sending a fact-finding team to visit Burma, amid rising hopes that the country's ruling junta could use the occasion to ease restrictions on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
|Subject Categories||Values and Beliefs|
|Countries / Regions||Europe, Southeastern Asia|