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EU eyes extending Myanmar sanctions: officials

The European Union will wait until next month before deciding whether to extend sanctions against Myanmar, a special envoy said on Tuesday, although another EU official saw little prospect of them being lifted.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2009 16:44 IST

The European Union will wait until next month before deciding whether to extend sanctions against Myanmar, a special envoy said on Tuesday, although another EU official saw little prospect of them being lifted.

There has been an emerging debate in the international community over policies towards Myanmar after Washington said it was reviewing its policy and conceded that sanctions had not influenced the junta on human rights and democracy.

The EU's special envoy to Myanmar, Piero Fassino, said there had been no decision yet on new sanctions, which expire at the end of April.

"Our attitude about this is in relation with the evolution of the situation. If there will be some positive new steps, we take note," said Fassino, who is on a trip to the region before reporting back to Brussels.

"The European Council many times declared we are ready to change the sanctions if there are some positive steps in (the) direction to obtain our goals," he said, without elaborating.

But another EU official was pessimistic there could be progress within a month to justify lifting sanctions.

"The chances that (the junta) will move in the next month, there is only one month's time, I don't think they're very big," the official told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

The sanctions apply to a long list of Myanmar officials and firms associated with its military rulers.

The EU has been pushing Myanmar to open a dialogue with the opposition, release political prisoners and guarantee elections due in 2010 are free and fair.

The junta, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, has refused to recognise a 1990 landslide election victory of the opposition National League for Democracy. Its leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for most of the past two decades.

Myanmar has been pursuing its own "roadmap" to democracy, which includes a referendum on an army-drafted constitution.

Western governments have criticised the poll as a sham aimed at entrenching military rule. The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, has sought to address democratic reforms and human rights issues in the former Burma under a policy of "constructive engagement".

But the EU and Washington have urged ASEAN to put more pressure on their neighbour.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month on a trip to the region that the sanctions had not influenced the junta, but also said that trying to engage them had failed.