EU prepares tougher Syrian sanctions


EU FOREIGN ministers are preparing tougher sanctions against Syrian leaders and they have opened the door to the use of frozen Libyan funds to back rebels against the Gadafy regime.

At their monthly meeting, the ministers also resolved to intensify sanctions against Belarus to impose an arms embargo on the country and an export ban on materials which could be used for “internal repression.”

EU foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton, who chaired the talks, said it was crucial for Israel and the Palestinians to think carefully about returning to peace talks.

“It is extremely important that they do so not least because in the changing world of our neighbourhood it is essential that they recognise that this crisis in the middle of the neighbourhood needs a resolution,” she told reporters. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who represented the Government at the meeting, backed that stance.

“The EU and Ireland is very anxious to get talks going again between Israel and Palestine, one of the long outstanding issues that is facing the international community and the EU intends to play an active role in trying to get talks moving again,” he said.

The meeting in Luxembourg came as Syrian president Bashar Assad blamed foreign-sponsored “saboteurs” for encouraging violent protests against his regime.Although Mr Assad promised reforms within months, EU ministers said in a statement that his “credibility and leadership depend on the implementation of reforms he himself announced publicly without taking any step since then to fulfil his commitment.”

As many as 1,300 people are estimated to have died in the brutal official backlash against the Syrian protests, prompting EU ministers to call yesterday on the regime to immediately end the violence.

Saying the loss of life was mostly among “peaceful protesters”, the ministers said the violence was a threat to regional stability. Having imposed two rounds of sanctions on the regime – the second of which targeted Mr Assad himself – the ministers said further measures are now in store. Without naming any individuals or entities, they said the EU is “actively preparing to expand its restrictive measures by additional designations with a view to achieving a fundamental change of policy by the Syrian leadership without delay”.

On Libya, scene of a months-long Nato bombing campaign to enforce a no-fly zone against forces loyal to Muammar Gadafy, the ministers took tentative steps to release frozen funds to support the rebels.

“The EU acknowledges the urgent financial needs of the transitional national council in order to serve the Libyan people,” the ministers said. “The mobilisation of international resources, including . . . the use of Libyan frozen funds in compliance with the provisions of the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, is key to support an inclusive transition process aiming at fostering national reconciliation and fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people.”

The ministers went to say measures in this regard must respect the rule of law, a reference to legal questions raised by appropriation of frozen funds for such purposes.

On Belarus, the ministers said they had decided to add further names to the list of individuals subject to EU travel restrictions and the freezing of assets.

In view of “the deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule-of-law situation” in the country, the ministers also plan to freeze the assets of three countries linked to the regime.