Paris Peace Accords 23 Oct. 1991

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

EU turns screw on Myanmar and Cambodia over rights abuses

Myanmar has been accused of ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority in Rakhine state © AFP

EU turns screw on Myanmar and Cambodia over rights abuses

Brussels threatens sanctions after alleged ethnic cleansing and opposition purge

The Financial Times | 23 February 2018

European countries will threaten sanctions over both Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya crackdown and Cambodia’s opposition purge ahead of elections this year. 

The EU is expected to draw up a list of Myanmar military officers to target, while possible measures against Cambodia include a rollback of trade preferences for an economy that supplies leading multinationals. 

The action, set to be endorsed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Monday, comes after months of turmoil in the two strategically located south-east Asian countries. A top UN official has branded the Myanmar military’s clampdown against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing. Cambodia’s opposition leader has been jailed and his party abolished. 

The ministers are expected to ask Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, to compile a list of senior Myanmar military figures to sanction for alleged involvement in serious rights abuses. 

The EU will also warn Hun Sen, Cambodia’s premier for more than three decades, of possible action should the situation not improve in the run-up to elections set for July. The ministers will order enhanced monitoring of the “everything but arms” agreement, under which Cambodia exports goods including garments and textiles duty-free to the EU. 

Hun Sen, long-time leader of Cambodia, is accusing of clamping down on the oppostion before elections 

Germany said on Thursday it had suspended preferential treatment in issuig visas for private travel by Cambodian government members, including Hun Sen and his family, as well as high-ranking military officials and the president of the Cambodian supreme court. Berlin said it had taken the action “in response to the intensifying state repression against press and political opposition”. 

EU ministers will need to weigh the pressure created by sanctions against the risk of pushing the two states closer to China at a time when Beijing’s economic and military influence in the region is growing. 

The EU move on Myanmar comes after calls from rights groups to respond to a military-led crackdown on the Rohingya from last August that drove nearly 700,000 people into exile in Bangladesh. But European counter-measures could send a jarring message for a country that suffered under sanctions during military rule. The sanctions were eased after Myanmar held its first democratically contested election for more than half a century in 2015. 

European ministers may also face a decision further down the line on whether to vary or suspend the “everything but arms” deal, under which Cambodian goods come to Europe in the form of partially finished products. The pressure on the Hun Sen government would have to be weighed against the possible impact on Cambodian workers — and the financial benefits to EU companies and consumers from the scheme.

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