EU bars contact with junta in Burma

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The Independent Online
Brussels - The European Union, angry at a lack of progress on human rights and democracy in Burma, was expected to increase pressure on Rangoon yesterday by imposing tight restrictions on visas and high-level contacts.

EU diplomats said they had agreed to take new steps against Burma's ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) owing to the regime's unwillingness to improve its record. The steps were to be rubber-stamped by EU foreign ministers at yesterday's meeting in Luxembourg. "The situation in Burma has deteriorated," one diplomat said. "A number of EU states have indicated the need for a strong signal."

Burma's military government has caused international protests by detaining a top official in Nobel Peace laureate's Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Diplomats in Burma said the official, Kyi Maung, was detained for questioning on Wednesday after being seen speaking to two students before a rare sit-in protest.

The EU proposals include banning entry visas for members of the Slorc and their families and for top members of the military or security forces viewed as impeding democracy. EU ministers and other officials will be banned from visiting Burma for bilateral meetings. The EU will also extend for six months its existing sanctions against Burma, which include a suspension of non-humanitarian aid or development programmes.

The EU has been turning up the heat on the Slorc since the summer, when Denmark began lobbying for action following the death in a Burmese prison of James Leander Nichols, its honorary consul. Denmark and some other Nordic countries want the EU to take stronger action, possibly including economic sanctions.