EU foreign ministers ordered visa bans on the president, vice-presidents, the cabinet, and speakers of both houses of parliament, lifted “as a first step”, a statement said.
Welcoming “the remarkable programme of political reform” undertaken by the country’s nominally-civilian government, the 27-nation bloc said further positive steps on the road to political change “would lead to the further easing or lifting of the restrictive measures.”
At stake are the lifting of embargos on arms deliveries, logging and mining, the resumption of aid, and unlocking assets of more than 900 firms and utilities.
“I am convinced that a democratisation process is under way and I am thankful to see the EU engaging in a progressive lifting of the sanctions,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who recently visited the country.
The EU also pledged increased development aid and assistance in reintegrating ethnic rebels while urging World Bank and International Monetary Fund support for Burma.
Hailing “the quite extraordinary changes in the last weeks and months,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced she would visit the country in April in coordination with Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the statement, the ministers welcomed the release of political prisoners, efforts to seek peace with ethnic rebel fighters and dialogue with the opposition, notably Suu Kyi.
Listing conditions for an end to sanctions, the EU called for the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners “within the next few months” and the “free and fair” conduct of the April 1 elections, which will see a historic bid for parliament by Suu Kyi.
Monday’s decisions follow pressure from France and Germany, which lobbied in favour of a quick signal of support for Myanmar’s reforms, while Nordic nations and Britain favoured waiting for the April vote.
European states last year extended by 12 months a set of trade and financial sanctions despite Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010, but lifted travel bans and an assets freeze on a third of the cabinet, including the foreign minister.
In January, the EU announced it would open an office in Myanmar’s main city Yangon to manage aid programmes and play a “political role”.
When we choose to look away for good, we are as complicit as those at the helm of this atrocity
Over 100 people in Lebanon have been reported killed during the hostilities started on October 7