EU suspends sanctions as Suu Kyi refuses to take her seat

Row over swearing of parliamentary oath prevents NLD party from joining assembly

The EU yesterday said it was suspending almost all sanctions against Burma, even as a dispute over the swearing of an oath prevented Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected colleagues from taking their seats in parliament.

During a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers said they would retain an arms embargo while suspending sanctions that include asset freezes on more than 1,000 firms and travel bans on 500 individuals. The EU will however "monitor closely the situation on the ground [and] keep its measures under constant review".

In London, David Cameron, who recently became the first sitting British prime minister in history to visit Burma, said: "President Thein Sein has taken important steps towards reform in Burma, and it is right for the world to respond to them."

The decision was widely anticipated and most observers welcomed a loosening of restrictions in order to encourage Thein Sein and his purportedly civilian senior colleagues to continue with the sorts of reforms that have earned so many headlines in recent months and persuaded the West to change its behaviour towards Burma. The US and Australia are also loosening sanctions.

But some are concerned that sanctions are being dropped too quickly and that it remains uncertain whether Thein Sein and those behind him are truly committed to lasting reforms. They point out that, while Ms Suu Kyi and other high-profile political prisoners have been released from jail, hundreds remain behind bars. They also say there continues to be a brutal military operation against ethnic rebels and that despite Ms Suu Kyi's success in by-elections held earlier this month, a military-backed party still dominates the parliament.

"Without clear benchmarks and timelines for progress there is a danger the government will assume sanctions are in effect over, and the European Union will have little influence left," said Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK. "European companies now looking at Burma as a place where they can grab resources on the cheap and exploit cheap labour will face vociferous public campaigns by groups in Europe."

Western companies have long made clear their desire to reap the riches of Burma. While sanctions have been in place, deals to exploit the country's oil, gas, minerals, gems and timber have already been snapped up largely by Chinese, Thai, South Korean and Indian companies.

One indication that things will not be easy for Ms Suu Kyi and the 42 other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) elected to the lower house of the parliament is a dispute over what oath she and her colleagues should swear. The NLD objects to the current oath that requires MPs to vow to "defend" or "safeguard" the constitution and wants the words changed to "respect" or "observe".

Her party says it would be inappropriate to swear such an oath since a priority for the NLD is to change the constitution. The party had hoped to persuade the government to amend the oath so that its MPs could attend yesterday's ceremony to reopen parliament in Naypyidaw. Instead, it opened without Ms Suu Kyi and her colleagues.

What happens next is unclear. If a change in oath requires a change in the constitution, it would need the support of 75 per cent of MPs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Client Relationship Assistant / Business Support

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you willing to give fantastic Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Assistant Document Controller

£11000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Greenwich based firm of Archite...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum