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Europe

Libya, Myanmar on EU Ministers' Agenda

Meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, EU foreign ministers are expected to lift an arms embargo on Libya. Other prickly issues include Myanmar, Sudan, Turkey, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.

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The EU's Prodi already welcomed Libya's Gadhafi in Brussels in April

The European Union is set to bolster sanctions against Myanmar after the military-ruled country failed to yield to EU demands before a weekend Europe-Asia summit that was clouded by the issue.

Ministers are to extend a visa blacklist against junta officials, ban EU companies from financing state-owned firms and oppose lending by international institutions such as the World Bank.

Myanmar

A little girl stands in front of a poster of Aung San Suu Kyi near Parliament House in New Delhi, India

The move was decided after the Yangon regime made no progress on demands, including the release of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (photo), ahead of an Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit in Vietnam last Friday and Saturday.

"We have no other choice but to take the (extra) sanctions that the Union had approved," said a diplomat from the EU's Dutch presidency, ahead of Monday's talks.

The move cast a cloud over the Hanoi meeting, notably after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rounded on the EU, arguing that a tougher package of sanctions announced by the 25-nation bloc would do little for reform.

"Japan's view is that applying sanctions might not necessarily result (in something) that favorable for democratization of that country," the prime minister said.

But the EU stuck to its guns, insisting that the dictatorship in Yangon had failed to deliver at all on promises of democratic reform.

ASEAN-Konferenz in Hanoi

EU Commission President Romano Prodi (center) and Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot (right) address the media in Hanoi last Thursday

"We have established the fact that there has been very little progress and in most essential areas of human rights, there has been no improvement at all," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who will chair the Luxembourg talks.

Libya to help fight illegal immigration

The EU is also expected to lift an arms ban on Libya at Monday's talks, a move pushed for by Italy to open the supply of equipment Tripoli needs to fight illegal immigration, a pressing problem on Europe's Mediterranean rim.

Libyen Todesurteile gegen fünf bulgarische Krankenschwestern

Bulgarian health workers accused of infecting children with HIV in a Libyan courtroom

But at the same time it will maintain pressure on Tripoli over the fate of five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for infecting over 400 children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The ministers are "expected to underline the importance of cooperation on migration issues and of improvements in the human rights situation in Libya," said an EU source.

On Sudan the EU is keen to keep up pressure on the Khartoum government to clamp down on militias threatening refugees in the western Darfur region, officials say.

War crimes prosecutor reports

Carla del Porte in Sarajevo

Carla del Ponte

Nearer to home the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla del Ponte (photo), will brief the ministers on cooperation from the region in seeking alleged war criminals.

This is of particular interest to Croatia, which is hoping to open EU membership negotiations early next year. Serbia and Montenegro is also closely watching the report after the transfer of a Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect to the tribunal has opened the door for negotiations over closer ties between the country and the union.

Also in Luxembourg EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen will formally present his recommendation that the bloc should start membership negotiations with Turkey.

But no substantial discussion is expected, diplomats say. EU leaders are due to take a decision on Turkey at a mid-December summit, based on the Commission's decision.

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