European Union set to prepare sanctions on Myanmar and Cambodia

The EU will warn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of possible action should the situation not improve in the run-up to elections.
The EU will warn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of possible action should the situation not improve in the run-up to elections. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS - The European Union will start preparing sanctions against Myanmar generals over killings of Rohingya Muslims by formally calling on the bloc's foreign policy chief next week to draw up a list of possible names. It is also expected to target Cambodia for a crackdown against the opposition ahead of elections in July.

"Ministers will call on (Federica) Mogherini to propose restrictive measures on senior members of the Myanmar military for systematic human rights abuses, without delay," one diplomat told Reuters on Thursday (Feb 22), referring to EU sanctions.

The Financial Times reported on Friday (Feb 23) that possible measures against Cambodia include a rollback of trade preferences. The EU will warn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of possible action should the situation not improve in the run-up to elections, the daily said. 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. 

Germany said on Thursday it had suspended preferential treatment in issuing visas for private travel by Cambodian government members, including Mr Hun Sen and his family, as well as high-ranking military officials and the president of the Cambodian supreme court.

Any new travel bans and asset freezes would be the EU's toughest measures yet on Myanmar military to hold it accountable for the abuses against the Rohingyas, likely joining US and Canadian sanctions already in place.

Foreign ministers will also ask Ms Mogherini and the EU's foreign service, the EEAS, on Monday to look at ways to strengthen the bloc's 1990s-era arms embargo on the South-east Asian country that remains in place.

In a statement expected to be released on Monday at a regular gathering of EU foreign ministers, the bloc is also expected to reiterate its call for the release of Reuters reporters detained on Dec. 12 over accusations that they violated Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.

The two had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave in Rakhine state after being hacked to death or shot by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbours and soldiers.

No names of generals to be targeted for sanctions have been yet discussed, the diplomats said, but the United States said in December it was sanctioning Major General Maung Maung Soe, who is accused of a crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine.

EU sanctions lists are often coordinated with Washington.

The EU's decision to consider sanctions reflects resistance to such measures in the U.N. Security Council, where veto-wielding powers Russia and China said this month they believe the situation in Rakhine was stable and under control.

The United States, as well as United Nations, have described the military crackdown in Myanmar as "ethnic cleansing". About 655,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine for shelter over the border in Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.