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EU Suspends Burma Sanctions, Slaps New Ones on Syria

In this photo taken on Feb 23, 2012, people walk past a roadside stall selling the posters of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her late father in Rangoon, Burma.

The European Union suspended for a year most sanctions against Burma on Monday, while also adopting new ones against the Syrian government.

The European Union's move to suspend sanctions against Burma follows a series of political reforms by the ruling party -- and a declaration by Washington that it will also ease sanctions. Suspending sanctions for a year, rather than dropping them altogether, gives the EU leverage to pressure the Burmese government to adopt more reforms.

That message was sounded by British Foreign Secretary William Hague in remarks to reporters before meeting with his European counterparts in Luxembourg.

"I think that it's the right thing to do," Hague said. "Great progress is being made in Burma, but we remain very concerned about conflict and human right abuses in some ethnic areas in Burma, particularly in Kachin state. There are still political prisoners and there is a dispute about swearing in of opposition members to the parliament. So, I think all this illustrates why it would be right to suspend and not lift entirely the sanctions," he said.

The EU's decision was expected, particularly following a joint appeal from British Prime Minister David Cameron and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The existing EU sanctions target hundreds of businesses and individuals in Burma and affect some international development aid.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told journalists she will travel to Burma later this week.

"I'll be there next weekend in order to deliver the messages from this [European] Council and also to open the European Union office that we have there," she said.

The EU ministers also agreed to tighten sanctions against the government in Syria, where bloodshed continues despite this month's cease-fire agreement.

The new measures target Syrian imports of luxury goods and so-called dual-use products like fertilizers that the government could use to continue its repression. The turmoil in Syria, now entering its second year, is estimated to have more than 9,000 people.

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