David Cameron calls for Burma sanctions to be suspended


David Cameron praises Aung San Suu Kyi's "struggle, bravery, courage"

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David Cameron has said economic sanctions against Burma should be suspended in recognition of the changes taking place in the country.

The prime minister spoke after a meeting with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.

Ms Suu Kyi welcomed his call and said the suspension of sanctions would "strengthen the hand of the reformers".

Mr Cameron is the first Western leader to visit Burma since her success in a series of parliamentary by-elections.

He is also the first UK prime minister to visit the country since it gained independence in 1948.

Earlier, Mr Cameron met President Thein Sein and said the government had to demonstrate that moves to democracy were "irreversible".

'Send a signal'

Burma was ruled for almost half a century by a military junta that stifled almost all dissent and wielded absolute power. The EU, US and other nations imposed sanctions.

David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi Mr Cameron described Aung San Suu Kyi as "a shining example for people who yearn for freedom"

The first general election in 20 years was held in 2010.

The installation of a military-backed, nominally civilian government in March 2011 and a series of reforms since - including the release of hundreds of political prisoners - has led to speculation that decades of international isolation could be coming to an end.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ms Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where she spent 15 years under house arrest, Mr Cameron said the arms embargo in place against Burma should remain in place, but it was right to suspend - not lift - the remaining sanctions.

They include an assets freeze imposed on nearly 500 people and restrictions on key industries such as mining and timber.

"[Burma] shouldn't be as poor as it is. It shouldn't have suffered under dictatorship for as long as it has, and things don't have to be that way," the prime minister said.

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

'Long way yet'

Mr Cameron said it was right to respond to signs of change "with care", adding: "All courses of action are full of risk, but I think this is the right step forward."

He also praised Ms Suu Kyi, calling her "an inspiration for people across the world".

Prime Minister David Cameron and Burma President Thein Sein Prime Minister David Cameron met Burma's president, Thein Sein, in Nay Pyi Taw

She in turn welcomed his call for the suspension of sanctions, saying: "We still have a long way to go but we believe we can get there.

"This suspension will have taken place because of the steps taken by the president and other reformers.

"It would also make it quite clear to those who are against reform that should they try to obstruct the way of the reformers, then sanctions could come back."

EU foreign ministers are to discuss policy towards Burma on 23 April, and sanctions are due to expire on 30 April unless leaders choose to renew them.

The BBC's deputy political editor, James Landale, who is travelling with the PM, says the change in position by the UK makes it very likely that Europe will agree to lift the sanctions.

Sanctions safeguards

But he says Mr Cameron's move is a gamble - and some would call it too much too soon - because if there is any regression by the regime it will be difficult to get European nations to agree to reimpose sanctions once again.

Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said "the sequenced lifting of sanctions along with careful monitoring of developments" was "a sensible way forward".

But former Labour minister Baroness Kinnock, the chairwoman of the all-parliamentary group on Burma, sounded a note of caution, saying there must be "clear measures in place to ensure that sanctions will be reimposed if there's no further progress".

"So we need to see interim measures, we need to see deadlines, we need to see benchmarks," she told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Wai Hnin, from the Burma Campaign UK, told the BBC the recent changes in the country were proof that sanctions were working, but there was still "no democratic system in Burma yet".

"To remove all the sanctions would be a little bit silly - I'm afraid that these changes will stop," she said.

Mr Cameron also revealed he had invited Miss Suu Kyi to visit Britain in June.

She said that two years ago she would have declined, knowing she would have been prevented from returning to Burma.

"Now I am able to say perhaps. That is great progress," she added.

'Cultural' activities

Burma is the final leg of the prime minister's tour of South East Asia promoting UK interests.

Prior to arriving in Nay Pyi Taw, he stopped briefly in Singapore to meet its leader, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Ten members of the business delegation, which includes defence firms, accompanying Mr Cameron on his tour are also in Burma.

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

Mr Cameron is not the first major Western figure to visit the country - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a landmark trip to Burma in December 2011.

He is, however, the first sitting UK prime minister to do so - Anthony Eden, who later became PM, travelled there while foreign secretary, and Edward Heath visited after leaving No 10.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I believe this visit appears motivated by the intent of political gain at home and is thoughtlessly precipitate. Cameron's errors of judgement and those of his ministers, spokesmen and advisers are costing the country dear as it pays for the rather crude personal ambitions of its government, the basically far right ideology of which adds to the harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    1 Hour ago

    10. littlemisterfurious
    Who cares. Why is he not here rather than swanning round on the world stage.

    The economy is still broken Dave.

    He is trying to drum up business from the emerging markets, which will help British business generate job opportunities.


    Not according to Downing Street he isn`t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    wonder when they atre going to move the first call centre out there and when we are going to get cheap electronics, we can make there economy strong and ours weak, we export jobs then inport goods. fair trade. your doing a great job PM

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I'm sure DC will have some insightful questions for ASSK, up to his usual standard.

    "With whom do your neighbours have parcels left, now you're out?"

    That sort of thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I remember DC making a trip to the newly completed Olympic Park with his cabinet - a purely PR exercise to bathe in the glow of the projects' success.

    He is now repeating the political trick with his visit to Burma.

    I would have been more impressed if he had shown more support for Ms Suu Kyi in the past rather than tame political messages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    40 - That's not really irony. And I support people's democratic right to withdraw labour, I just think their reasons in this case are overly selfish and demonstrably so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

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

    Why does this make the hair on the back of my neck stand up?

    "Mr Cameron is expected to tell the president the UK is prepared to provide support to the country in areas such as how to build a democracy"

    Yep! that's the reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The new boss is the same old boss.

    And they are back on the road all over Burma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    OIl, GAS cheap labour....well what is it, for a UK PM visit? Could this be a GADDAFI gate for Mr C...one hopes so..but then they have their patsy's in the coalition...don't they.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Is he collecting money for the bank of England coffersWar funds.Why sell arms,it will only start a war Dave at somepoint in the future,it always does.You obviously haven't kept up to date with WORLD HISTORY?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    This is very encouraging news.
    Without important breakthroughs like this where on earth would McDonalds and Starbucks expand their operations, given they've saturated the developed world.
    Oh, by the way Burma, you can keep the toffee-nosed envoy. May he serve to remind you of the law of unintended consequences on your road to western-style quasidemocracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Why BBC refering Myanmar as Burma? Is that western world has not accepted the name change or the remnant of colonial attitude?

    Many Indian cities changed name ( Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to chennai etc) after Burma changed name to Myanmar and BBC always use new names referring to Indian cities

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    One of the perks of the job, you get to travel

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    #34 – Pity you missed the BBC interview with a Burman lady earlier on, during which she expounded on their preferential name. Just for the record, Burman is the proper adjective, while Burmese is the common one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    It is highly ironic that Mr Cameron continues to continue his pilgrimage abroad to spread the good word of democracy and its values while his own government continues to stifle and repeal the liberties of its people.


  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Glad to know Davey boy is applauding their efforts to democrtic ways whilst presiding over a Colition government that the voters in this one did not vote for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    It goes to show that countries can change on their own without being bombed.The Americans must be disappointed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It's a bit cynical, isn't it, for a leader who does everything to stifle democracy in his own country, to go and discuss democracy with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    He does look a bit odd in his British suit/s out there - he ought to have gone Kimono style and thongs. Of course he wants sanctions eased now, as other posters here have alluded to - he is selling UK weapons to help the military backed 'new' democracy and our UK arms industry. UK is a warring nation, it needs wars to keep the arms industry thriving. If we don't sell them guns someone else will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Our glorious leader is doing what he likes best, to sell arms to anyone he approves of. The whole thing is a thinly veiled sham sold as "encouraging exports".

    Oh and good morning all you central office types, you're up early today. Worried about Friday 13th? Don't be superstitious, just be afraid of the forthcoming local elections :-)


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