Why France now backs easing EU sanctions on Myanmar

France follows the US in supporting a lifting of sanctions on Myanmar after April 1 elections. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD won a landslide parliamentary election.

(AP Photo)
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters Monday, April 2, 2012, the day after elections in Yangon, Myanmar. France says it now supports lifting EU sanctions on the country.

France will urge its European Union partners to consider easing sanctions on Myanmar after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat in an April 1 election, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday.

The United States said a day earlier it was ready to relax some sanctions on Myanmar to recognize its fledgling democratic transition, including a ban on U.S. companies investing in, or offering financial services to, the country.

Juppe said Europe had to make a "gesture", given the outcome of the election in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country.

"I will propose to Brussels' (EU) partners to make a gesture on easing some sanctions," he said.

IN PICTURES: Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide, a victory she hailed as a "triumph of the people" after decades of military dictatorship.

The EU's executive Commission hinted on Monday that the bloc's foreign ministers would lift some sanctions on Myanmar when they meet on April 23.

Suu Kyi, who led opposition to military rule for 20 years and on Sunday won a lower house seat, noted there had been voting irregularities in the poll that accounted for only a small fraction of the 440-seat lower house and 224-seat senate.

While sanctions have blocked Western investments, China has become Myanmar's biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China's growing energy needs.

"People say that sanctions don't work, but in Myanmar's case the regime realised that due to its isolation they were in China's pocket ... that helps explain its change in stance," Juppe said.

China called on Thursday for all sanctions on Myanmar to be lifted, noting the success of the elections. "The result was broadly affirmed domestically and by the international community," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in China's first official comment on Sunday's elections, which yielded a landslide victory for Suu Kyi's party.

"China hopes that this by-election will be conducive to pushing Myanmar's political reconciliation process and Myanmar's stability and development," Hong told a regular news briefing.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the Obama administration wanted to move cautiously on lifting sanctions, saying that the resource-rich Southeast Asian country has a long way to go to shake off decades of military rule.

Clinton hailed as a "dramatic demonstration of popular will" Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's gaining of a seat in the lower house in a parliamentary by-election on Sunday which yielded a landslide victory for her party.

"We fully recognize and embrace the progress that has taken place and we will continue our policy of engagement," Clinton said in a brief appearance before reporters three days after Suu Kyi's party won 43 of 45 seats available in the by-election.

The package Clinton unveiled on Wednesday reflected a modest first step toward lifting the complex web of U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country's isolation for decades.

The United States will seek to name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, to set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development there and to support a regular U.N. Development Program operation in the country.

Clinton also said the United States was committed to "beginning the process of a targeted easing of our ban on the export of U.S. financial services and investment as part of a broader effort to help accelerate economic modernization and political reform." She provided no details.

(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert and Arshad Mohammed. in Washington Editing by Maria Golovnina)

IN PICTURES: Aung San Suu Kyi

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