Cameron backs Burma sanctions suspension

David Cameron meets iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
David Cameron meets iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Alex Stevenson By

International sanctions against Burma should be suspended, David Cameron has said after talks with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.

His visit - the first ever by a British prime minister - saw him meet president Thein Sein to encourage him in the country's fragile moves towards democracy, before his meeting with pro-democracy icon Ms Suu Kyi.

The EU and US have imposed sanctions against Burma for many years, but the EU will reassess its position in a meeting on April 23rd.

Mr Cameron is calling on all sanctions against the southeast Asian country - with the exception of the arms embargo - to be suspended immediately.


"We must always be sceptical and questioning, but as we've discussed I think it is right to suspend the sanctions there are against Burma," he told Ms Suu Kyi outside the lakeside villa where she was held under house arrest for many years.

"I think it's important to send a signal that we want to help see the changes that can bring the growth and freedom of human rights and democracy in your country."

She responded by thanking him for Britain's support for change in Burma, saying: "We still have a long way to go but we believe that we can get there."

On the suspension of sanctions, Ms Suu Kyi added: "This would be an acknowledgement of the role of the president and other reformers. It would make it quite clear to those who are against reform that should they try to obstruct the way of reformers, the sanctions could come back."

Burma has been ruled by an oppressive military dictatorship since 1962. But after its first general election in 20 years, in November 2010, was criticised its leaders decided to embrace change, including by-elections earlier this month.

That allowed opposition leader Ms Suu Kyi to be elected to parliament.

Earlier he described her as "a shining example for people who yearn for freedom, for democracy, for progress".

Addressing her directly, he added: "Your struggle, your bravery, your courage for standing up for the things you believe in has been inspirational for people across the world. Everyone in the UK has been inspired for your struggle.

"We care about what happens in your country... it shouldn't be as poor as it is. Things don't have to be that way and there is the real prospect of change."

He said he wanted to see the release of more political prisoners and called for "real political solutions" to be found to ethnic conflicts, where only limited progress has been achieved so far.

The British government, like other western states, will be looking closely at opportunities for investment in Burma after the EU reassesses its sanctions regime against the country on April 23rd.

Mr Cameron's entourage includes ten business figures, but Downing Street insists they are 'tourists' who are not looking for potential contracts.

The US has not yet lifted its sanctions but could be prepared to do so soon, as the Burmese government continues to release political prisoners.

One opposition group - the Karen National Union organisation behind an ethnic-based insurgency in part of the country - has called for the pace of change to be shifted, however.

"The international community should not rush too fast," general secretary Zipporah Sein told the Wall Street Journal newspaper. "They should wait a little bit." 

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