BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union sought to turn up the pressure on Myanmar on Wednesday, by toughening sanctions and trying to draw India and China into a more robust stance against the military regime.
The 27-nation EU agreed to expand sanctions against the junta to protest the continued crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.
Ambassadors backed an expanded visa ban for members of the military leadership, and extended bans on key exports like tropical timber and gems, but not oil.
Sensing it would take a global approach to contain the junta, the EU also called on regional powers China and India to help isolate the leadership.
The urgency for international pressure increased Wednesday. After the pro-democracy uprising was broken up, people were dragged from their homes at night and the junta let others know they were marked for arrest.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi called for "stronger and more vigorous" action from the international community, saying that "the situation is calm on the surface, but underneath it is disastrous."
Prodi also said he wrote to the leaders of China and India to urge them to help solve the crisis.
Both China and India have significant economic stakes in Myanmar, mainly in the country's booming energy sector. China is the largest single investor in Myanmar and its projects include a pipeline delivering gas to its energy-hungry south.
The two governments, which have been reluctant to criticize the junta in the past, are seen by officials as well placed to pressure it into accepting international demands.
The EU on Wednesday wanted to reinforce that point. "We passed very serious messages," said EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana. "One with China and one with India, two countries that are fundamental when we are talking about Myanmar," he said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to play a role in resolving the tensions in Myanmar and urged the junta to refrain from further violence.
Hun Sen said the involvement of Myanmar's Buddhist monks in recent pro-democracy protests showed problems had reached a new level of seriousness.
Solana also lauded the ASEAN group, of which Myanmar is a member, for condemning the crisis. "For them to produce a statement, that is a really fundamental change," he told EU legislators.
Solana said the EU wanted to send a human rights envoy to Myanmar to talk with the military regime, but said a final decision to send the diplomat would come after U.N. special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, presents his report of his visit to Myanmar in New York on Friday.
U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in transit in Singapore on Wednesday after a four-day mission in Myanmar, where he met junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his deputies to convey the international community's outrage at the junta's actions. He also talked to detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice.
Japan said Wednesday it is preparing to cut aid to Myanmar, while Cambodia's prime minister urged Myanmar's neighbors to work as a group to help find a democratic solution to the country's political crisis.
Myanmar's junta broadcast warnings from trucks Wednesday that soldiers were searching for protesters.
Myanmar's military crushed pro-democracy protests on Sept. 26 and 27 with live ammunition, tear gas and by beating up demonstrators. Hundreds of monks and civilians were taken to detention camps. The government says 10 people were killed in the violence, but dissident groups put the toll as high as 200. They say 6,000 people were detained.
Japan is Myanmar's largest aid donor. It suspended yen-denominated loans for major projects after another violent crackdown in 1988, but has since given aid under a program focused mainly on health, education and humanitarian projects.
In 2005, Japan provided grants totaling 1.3 billion yen (US$11.2 million; euro7.9 million) and 1.7 billion yen (US$14.7 million; euro10.3 million) in technology assistance, according to the latest ministry figures.
Japan has limited its economic aid to Myanmar to humanitarian assistance, and is now considering cutting it back further.