HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 cc883-5
3. Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness)

If he will make a statement on relations with and possible sanctions against Burma. [123867]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

I met UN Special Envoy Razali yesterday to discuss the grave situation in Burma. The UK has repeatedly called on the Burmese military regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately, as well as other National League for Democracy members who have been detained since 30 May. The Burmese military regime's response to events so far has been utterly unacceptable. The EU strengthened sanctions against the Burmese leadership on 16 June. We will ensure that pressure is put on the Burmese military regime to move towards democracy and respect for human rights.

Mr. Simmonds

I thank the Minister for that answer. In the context of the Prime Minister's comments that trade with Burma is not appropriate, and Colin Powell's remarks that the time has come to turn up the pressure, exactly what further pressure are the UK Government applying, both to the EU and to the UN, to place economic strain and targeted sanctions on the military junta, not the population of Burma, to ensure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and to provide at the very least an impetus for democratic change?

Mr. O'Brien

There is considerable discussion, not only with the EU but with the United States and other international partners, including the Chinese, to find out whether we can put more pressure on the regime. In particular, we need to focus on the Association of South East Asian Nations—Burma's neighbours—as it obviously has very close relationships with Burma. We need to ensure that it sends clear messages—I am pleased to say that it has done so recently—to the Burmese regime that it must change its behaviour.

The EU has a role to play, and it has clearly taken action itself, with bans on all defence links, high-level bilateral visits, non-humanitarian aid, supplying equipment that might be used for internal repression, an asset freeze, and a visa ban on the 153 members of the regime, their families and business associates. All that is being done, but the EU also has contacts with the various neighbours, and we need to ensure that those contacts are also used to put pressure on the Burmese regime. It is an unacceptable regime, and its unacceptability must be ended. We must move towards a process of reform as quickly as possible.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the firm stance taken by Japan at the ASEAN meeting vis-à-vis Burma? What encouragement and support can be given to the Government of Japan, who have not always, it must be said, taken such a firm and principled stance in respect of the Burmese regime?

Mr. O'Brien

We have made clear our welcome for the stance taken by Japan and also by a number of other countries in that part of the world. It is traditional in south-east Asia that countries do not criticise each other. Often, therefore, human rights issues do not get raised in the way that we would hope. However, Japan and all the other countries in south-east Asia are making it increasingly clear to the Burmese regime that Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel peace prize winner, needs to be negotiated with in a serious way, and that progress towards democracy is essential. Currently, the Burmese regime says that it is detaining Aung San Suu Kyi for her own protection—it is detaining Aung San Suu Kyi for its protection and to protect its corrupt regime, and we must ensure that that is exposed.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

If I may, I shall read an extract from a letter that I received this morning: Really for the first time we are very worried about the safety of our sister-in-law, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. While we obviously welcome the strong messages of condemnation from around the world, we are concerned that the only action taken has been by Japan … We therefore strongly endorse your argument for UN and EU sanctions, but as a first and immediate step would urge HMG to implement a British investment and travel ban. In that spirit, will the Government press for agreed action to be taken at the Asia-Europe meeting to be held in Bali later this month?

Mr. O'Brien

I will be going to Bali later this month, and I shall certainly press the issue of Burma and the urgent need to release Aung San Suu Kyi. We are seeking to end all British investment in Burma. In particular, I have had a meeting with the chairman of British American Tobacco and have made it clear that our view is that BAT now needs to withdraw its investment in Burma. He has said that he will consider that request, and I hope to have his response in the near future.

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