An arms embargo will remain in place, but EU foreign ministers said they were suspending their countries' trade restrictions for a year as a way to encourage the "historic changes" being enacted by President Thein Sein of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The widely expected move adds to the growing rapprochement between the West and Myanmar, which has been criticized and shunned for years because of its record of political repression. Since Myanmar’s ruling regime began loosening its clampdown on dissent, Western governments have responded by easing their isolation of the resource-rich nation.
In recent months, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made official trips to Myanmar, during which they were able to meet with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy party won a round of recent by-elections by a landslide earlier this month.
The longtime democracy activist, who has spent much of the last two decades under house arrest, is expected to visit Europe in June, in a sign of her own confidence in the political reforms underway in her country. In the past, she would either not have been allowed to travel or refused to do so for fear the authorities would not let her back into Myanmar.
But troubles at home remain. Suu Kyi and other elected members of her party are boycotting the opening of parliament because they disagreed with the oath of office, which requires them to swear to "safeguard" a constitution they consider undemocratic.
Meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers hailed Myanmar's moves to open up its political system, including greater freedom of assembly. The changes have allowed the EU "to open a new chapter" in its relations with Myanmar, the ministers said in a joint statement.
"These reforms will need time to implement and to bear fruit. The foundation for development is legitimate government, the rule of law and national reconciliation," the statement said.
The ministers warned that they would continue to monitor the situation on the ground and called for the release of all political prisoners.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: European Union foreign ministers at their meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, during which they approved the lifting of sanctions on Myanmar. Credit: Georges Gobet / AFP/Getty Images