EU extends sanctions against Myanmar
EU foreign ministers on Monday extended European Union sanctions against Myanmar for another year, but said they were ready to ease them and hold talks if there was democratic progress.
The council of 27 EU member states "deems it necessary to extend the current EU common position by another year, including the restrictive measures," foreign ministers said in a statement agreed at a meeting in Luxembourg.
The EU "underlines its readiness to revise, amend or reinforce the measures it has already adopted in light of developments on the ground," the statement added.
The EU nations also renewed their call for the immediate release of all political prisoners -- such as opposition leader and Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi -- and for a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
The Myanmar military seized power in 1962 and maintains virtually total control on every aspect of life in the nation formerly known as Burma.
EU sanctions against the regime -- in place since 2006 -- include a travel ban and the freezing of assets of Myanmar's leaders and their relatives, as well as an embargo on arms exports there.
The sanctions also limit diplomatic relations between the South East Asian nation and the European bloc.
The decision to renew the sanctions put paid to any lingering hopes of a rapprochement in the short term.
Last month the EU's senior Myanmar envoy had said the EU might consider easing its sanctions in April if it sees democratic progress.
Those sanctions were increased in 2007, after the military cracked down on Buddhist protests.
The expanded sanctions covered a ban on timber, metals, minerals, precious stones from Myanmar and a ban on new investment in Myanmar companies operating in these sectors.
European and other nations are now looking to a general election due in in Myanmar next year to see if the junta eases its grip on power.
However the Myanmar authorities "have still to take the steps necessary to make the planned 2010 elections a credible, transparent and inclusive process based on international standards," the EU document said.
The ministers stressed that "the EU stands ready to respond positively to genuine progress in Burma/Myanmar."
It held out the possibility of ministerial-level dialogue on the margins of an Asia Europe (ASEM) foreign ministers meeting in Hanoi next month.