The EU has said it would ease back on economic sanctions against Myanmar despite objections from Human Rights Watch. An oil embargo against Syria is also to be lifted to help rebels fighting President al-Assad.
Foreign ministers from the 27 nations in the European Union agreed on Monday in Luxembourg to lift trade and economic sanctions against Myanmar in recognition of the country's ongoing democratic reforms.
"In response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue, the Council (of ministers) has decided to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms," a statement from the foreign ministers read on Monday.
This comes on the same day a report was released from the activist group Human Rights Watch (HRW) claiming that ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims took place in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. The document, based on field interviews, says authorities encouraged the actions.
HRW said that government officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks "organized and encouraged" ethnic Arakanese people - local to the affected western state on the Bay of Bengal - "to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population."
The head of HRW in Asia, Phil Robertson, called the EU's decision to lift Myanmar's sanctions "premature and regrettable."
Help for the rebels
The EU also decided to make it easier for companies to import crude oil from Syria.
Imports of oil production technology and investment cash to areas controlled by the Syrian opposition would be allowed on a case-by-case basis, ending a previous embargo.
"We want regions controlled by the opposition to develop, we want to help economic reconstruction," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as he arrived for Monday's talks. "People will see there is a real alternative to the Assad regime."
An arms embargo on Syria remains in place, although some EU members favor lifting that as well. Germany is opposed to this step.
mz/tm (AFP, dpa, AP)