UK Politics

David Cameron says Burma sanctions may be eased

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Media captionMr Cameron told Radio 5 live that Burma sanctions should be eased.

Prime Minister David Cameron has praised Burma's moves towards democracy and said the UK stood ready to respond by easing sanctions on the country.

Ahead of his historic visit to the country on Friday, he said events in Burma, including recent multi-party by-elections, were a "bright light".

But he said he wanted to see conditions on the ground for himself to determine whether the change was "irreversible".

EU foreign ministers are to discuss policy towards Burma on 23 April.

If they are satisfied that recent steps taken by the government are likely to be sustained, they could ease certain financial sanctions.

Mr Cameron's first visit to Burma - which had been controlled for decades by the army - will conclude his week-long tour of east and south-east Asia, which has included stops in Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The prime minister is set to meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to parliament after two decades spent mostly under house arrest.

'Respond in kind'

The prime minister told BBC Radio 5 live he would also meet President Thein Sein and "thank him for the work that he has done" on democratic reform.

Image caption Mr Cameron said his Malaysian counterpart believed the desire for reform in Burma was genuine

Asked if sanctions should be eased, Mr Cameron said: "If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that.

"But first I want to go and see for myself on the ground how things are going."

Speaking in Malaysia, after meeting the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Mr Cameron said he and other regional leaders believed the Burmese government's desire for reform was genuine.

"I hope that following my meetings I will have the confidence to go back to my country, back to others in the European Union, and argue that change in Burma is irreversible. In a world of difficulty and darkness and all sorts of problems here is one bright light we should encourage."

Baroness Kinnock, the chair of the all-parliamentary group on Burma, said the PM was correct to acknowledge there had been progress.

But the former Labour minister warned against any "chipping away of sanctions" - saying it was too soon to consider lifting the arms embargo and restrictions on key industries such as mining and timber.

"We have still not seen any repressive laws repealed and the constitution has not changed which means the military still have a monopoly of power," she told the BBC.

The EU must adopt a common position to "leverage more change", she added, and ensure planned elections in 2015 were free and fair.

Some of the business delegation - which includes defence firms - that has been accompanying Mr Cameron around South East Asia are due to travel to Burma.

However, Downing Street has insisted the visit is purely political and the businessmen will merely be carrying out "cultural" activities.

Transformed nation

The prime minister has stressed South East Asia's growing economic and political importance during the trip which he has insisted is about boosting UK jobs and investment.

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "Where they have the courage to reform, we have the courage to respond"

On Thursday, the prime minister signed an agreement on educational links between the UK and Malaysia and met leading businessmen in an effort to encourage bilateral trade and investment.

Towards the end of his time in Indonesia, he paid tribute to the country and said it should be held up as an example for other Muslim nations - especially those involved in the Arab Spring.

During a speech at Al Azhar university in Jakarta, he said that in just one decade Indonesia had begun a transformation from dictatorship to democracy - a feat which had taken other countries, including the UK - decades and centuries.

Democracy threats

He said the UK and Indonesia had many similarities and shared interests and highlighted the 2002 terror attacks in Bali where hundreds died.

He said: "The attack on Bali was an attack on the world and it taught us just how the security of our countries is now so inevitably intertwined."

He said the attacks were just like 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in London, adding: "We were attacked by a group of people who wanted to set Islam at odds with the West and use a warped version of their religion to justify a campaign of hatred and violence."

He praised Indonesia's resilience and said the country had the ability to show the world how democracy should be. Mr Cameron warned of the threat of extremists to democracy, while stressing extremism was not just found among Muslims.

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