The European Commission sounded stunned by the news. A spokesman said: "It's clear that he shouldn't be allowed into the UK, or any country of the European Union." A modest package of EU measures, which received strong support from Britain, bans senior members of the military government and their families from entering EU member states.
The Foreign Office produced two separate explanations for lifting the ban. Initially, officials claimed that U Win Aung, Burma's London ambassador for the past three years, is not yet foreign minister, and is therefore exempt from any punitive action - even though he is returning for a party given by supporters of the regime to celebrate his promotion.
Under persistent questioning by the Independent on Sunday, the Foreign Office changed its line. A spokesman said instead that the minister's ambassadorial privileges were "paramount" - and must take precedence over the ministerial ban.
John Jackson, a director of the Burma Action Group, rejected the argument that U Win Aung was only "foreign minister-designate". "He has already been given duties as foreign minister," he said. "If a senior member of one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world can come here, it makes a mockery of the visa ban."
In Fear of Shadows, Sunday ReviewReuse content