EU fact-finding mission in Myanmar to assess possibility of sanctions over Rohingya crisis

Myanmar’s “blatant violation of human rights" is the cause, said EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom. European officials will vet the possibility of stripping Myanmar of a special trade status. EU is also set to punish Cambodia for restrictions on democracy.

Brussels (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The European Union is sending a fact-finding mission to assess whether to impose trade sanctions on Myanmar over human rights abuses, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said on Friday. She also said and the EU will strip Cambodia of its preferential trade status.

The EU mission to Myanmar plans to look into a potential withdrawal of its "Everything but Arms" (EBA) status, which allows the world's 49 poorest countries to sell any goods tariff-free into the EU, except weapons.

"We cannot exclude this outcome. The reason is the blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar," she told a news conference after a meeting of trade ministers in Innsbruck, Austria.

The move confirms what some analysts have said, namely that the European Union was considering punitive action against Myanmar over its handling of the Rohingya crisis in its western Rakhine State.

A recent report by the United Nations accuses the Myanmar military of "genocidal intent” in connection with rapes and mass killings committed by its soldiers, and calls for its commander in chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.

Myanmar has rejected most of the charges contained in the report, blaming instead "Bangladeshi terrorists" for most of the atrocities.

With respect to Cambodia, the EU had threatened the South-East Asian nation with "specific targeted measures" if it does not stop using the judiciary as a "political tool" to harass and intimidate political opponents, civil society groups, workers' rights activists and human rights advocates.

Last July, Brussels had warned the Cambodian government over the country’s general elections, held without opposition parties. The latter saw Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 32 years, re-elected for the sixth time.

Both the United States and the EU had previously withdrawn their financial support for the vote, citing government actions limiting the country’s democracy.

"I have notified Cambodia today that we will launch the procedure for withdrawal of EBA. Without clear and demonstrable improvements this will lead to suspension of trade preferences," said Malmstrom who also noted that a EU delegation was already in Cambodia.