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 162.

    Aung San Suu Kyi is an extraordinary person just seing her answer questions from the press standing next to Cameron would have been hard to believe a few years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    It is took early! Wait and see. It is not being a prime minister of UK saying something to day retracting the next day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    I'm so embarrassed that our prime minister it there celebrating this huge event by trying to sell them arms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    @154.coram-populo-2010, Its more that the Burmese regime is introducing the changes slowly, so the rest of the world should also be cautious and remove the restrictions slowly. I'm sure the opposition in Burma would advise the same caution as the regime, especially after the 1990 elections, where the opposition won a majority but the regime refused to cede power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    their on (sic) prescription for the future of our country and it is 100% negative. Collective heads in the sand or what, and I wish they would learn to spell and speak English properly

    And lesson 1 is "read what you have written carefully" before you criticise those who are commenting on Cameron's arms sales junket to Burma.

    Right whingers make me laugh, so funny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Why do all the BBC News reports & Jeremy Vine all keep questioning why Cameron is out there almost doing Miliblands scaremongering for him, the same questions could have been asked of previous PM's and Ireland, they are changing and if we ignore them they will revert back to before as well as getting our foot in the door 1st for trade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    It is good to see the relaxing of the authoritarian regime in Burma and I wish them well.Cameron is right to visit and to relax sanctions against the regime. Little by little step by step this encouragment will hopefuly bring them back into the international fold

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    @143.Zebras_Are_Awesome, it all depends as most Burmese dont recognise the name Myanmar as they dont recognise the legitimacy of the regime, so they use the older name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    @136 'allthatswronginsport'
    I may be reading between the lines of your post? May I assume that too much, too soon will be harmful to the general population of Burma? If I have interpreted correctly, that may be the case.

    Dictatorships can happen overnight and last for many generations. Democracy, a vote for everyone, although imperfect, has to be introduced gradually to those starved of it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    It's interesting to see how this topic of (selling arms to Burma) has mobilised Tory central office so well, although it illuminates just how "in bed" with the "defence industry" this government really is.
    It's plain to see that Cameron's visit is primarily to assist with arms sales to the Burmese government, why pretend otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    "Cultural" activities? Come on, it's the 'business' stupid! This is a country which went to bed with Gaddafi in the name of 'noticeable reforms', went to war in Iraq in the name of "WMD". The world is not dumb Mr. PM!

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Regardless who praise the new military-dominated government and trying not to mention on-going conflict in Kachin State, the international community should understand that there will be no peace in Burma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I welcome Cameron's visit. I hope it is to reward the Myanmar progress towards democracy and not to sell them weapons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Good news. It strengthens ties with Burma and increases Britain's image on the world stage. Not a lot more to add, other than good luck to Burma and well done to Cameron for something positive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I just hope this is not equivalent to T.Blair giving Gadaffi a hug.

    Images he could live to regret if Burma goes pear shaped. I hope this does not happen but......

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    The fact he went with defence firms makes me uneasy, regardless of the spin. This is a story with many positives though, so good on them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I have said this before on blogs - most of the left whingers on them have their on prescription for the future of our country and it is 100% negative. They have their own versions of events and distort the facts per se they did not know that David Cameron has been to both India and China. Collective heads in the sand or what, and I wish they would learn to spell and speak English properly

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    It's a very bold move by Cameron to go there. And I'm sure he wanted to get in before other nations.

    Good for Burma. They are moving in the right direction and trying to do their people right. In terms of the UK, if we can benefit from helping them, even better, for both parties.

    Aung San Suu Kyi is a great person. The Mandela of South East Asia? I wish Burma and their people very well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    116. sxgree
    He has learned from Master Blair, but at least has not declared any illegal wars yet.

    So Libya was legal because it was sanctioned by the likes of Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    When will the BBC learn that the country is now called "Myanmar"?


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