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Catherine-Ashton- STRASBOURG: The European Union will ease its sanctions imposed onMyanmar further after recent pro-democracy steps taken by the country, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday.

"In January, we suspended the visa bans on the Government of Myanmar. At the end of this month, we will do more," Ashton told the European Parliament.

Decisions would be taken by EU foreign ministers at their next meeting inLuxembourgon Monday. She did not elaborate.

The EU was widely expected to authorise investments and imports of sensitive products but the lifting of an arms embargo does not seem to be on the agenda.

Ashton said she would travel toMyanmarApril 28-30.

"We need to go further and build a partnership withMyanmar," she said adding that she had invitedMyanmar's foreign minister toBrussels.

"I do hope that what we are now seeing is an opportunity for this country to go forward," she said. "We will now enter into an active collaboration withMyanmar, to assist the reform process and to contribute to economic, political and social development."

The further easing of sanctions was expected after British Prime Minister David Cameron and the country's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a joint call Friday for the suspension of sanctions against the former pariah state.

MyanmarPresident Thein Sein has surprised observers with a series of reforms since taking office last year, including accepting Suu Kyi and her party back into the mainstream and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.

But Western sanctions have largely been left intact as the international community balanced fears over the sustainability of the changes and a desire to bolster regime reformers who may face pressure from those wary of change.

Suu Kyi's endorsement of the suspension -- which does not include an arms embargo -- was also seen as crucial.

The 27-nation European Union has already lifted a travel ban on 87Myanmarofficials, including Thein Sein, in February but kept an assets freeze against them.

TheUnited Stateson Tuesday eased certain financial restrictions onMyanmarto allow non-governmental groups to operate in the country as it undertakes democratic reforms.

The Treasury Department put into place new regulations in line with an April 4 announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sought to reward reformers who permitted by-elections swept by the long-repressed opposition.

The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said that it would no longer restrict Americans from financial transactions inMyanmarif they are working for projects that "meet basic human needs" or promote democracy.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012

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