EU set to ease Syria oil embargo to bolster rebels

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EU set to ease Syria oil embargo to bolster rebels

The European Union is set to lift its oil embargo on Syria to provide more economic support to the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad’s regime, officials said Monday.

By (AFP)

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Published: Mon 22 Apr 2013, 6:41 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 5:26 PM

The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory and the import of oil production technology. It marks the first relaxing of the EU’s sanctions in two years as governments try to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the opposition in the civil war-struck Arab state.

Ahead of a meeting of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Germany’s chief diplomat, Guido Westerwelle, said the move aims at “granting stronger economic support” for the rebels.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks during the Friends of Syria meeting on April 20, 2013 in Istanbul. - AFP

“We wish for good economic development in the areas controlled by the opposition, therefore we lift the sanctions that hinder the moderate opposition forces’ work,” the German foreign minister said. “That is very certainly a strengthening of the democratic opposition because it makes people realize that there is a true alternative to the Assad regime.”

The oil exports could open an important revenue stream for Syria’s opposition, even though it is still unclear when and how much crude could be exported.

“The security situation is so difficult that much of this will be difficult to do, but it is important for us to send the signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Syria’s oil industry has faltered as the rebels have captured many of the country’s oil fields, with wells aflame and looters scooping up crude. That has deprived Assad’s government of much-needed cash and fuel for its war machine as it fights the two-year-old uprising.

The conflict in Syria has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.

Before the uprising, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels a day and exports — mostly to Europe — bringing in more than $3 billion in 2010. Oil revenues provided around a quarter of the funds for the national budget.

The government has not released recent production figures, but exports have ground practically to a standstill, and Assad’s regime has been forced to import refined fuel supplies to keep up with demand amid shortages and rising prices.

Imports of fuel or crude to Syria have not been targeted by the sanctions.

Some EU members, such as Britain and France, are also pushing to lift the bloc’s arms embargo against Syria to allow weapons shipments to the rebels. But other major EU players, such as Germany, remain opposed to that step, fearing it might set off a regional arms race and deepen the conflict.

The arms embargo expires May 30, and the EU foreign ministers aren’t expected to make a decision on it before their next meeting in May, EU officials said.

At their meeting in Luxembourg, the ministers were also set to drop sanctions against Myanmar, also referred to as Burma, to support the country’s transition toward democracy.

“The problems of Burma are not over, but the progress that has been made is substantial,” said Hague, adding the EU must strengthen its engagement with the authorities to stop the ongoing ethnic violence in Myanmar that particularly targets Muslim minorities there.

The sanctions were suspended last April for one year after the country’s military rulers handed over power to a civilian government that launched democratic reforms. The measures had targeted more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people, and also included the suspension of some development aid.

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