EU mulls Ukraine arms embargo

20th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

The European Union was mulling an arms embargo on Ukraine at a crisis meeting in Brussels Thursday as three EU envoys held talks with the country's embattled leader in Kiev.

Describing the escalating violence in Kiev as "utterly unacceptable and indefensible", British Foreign Secretary William Hague stepped into the emergency meeting saying: "Helping to stop the violence is the immediate priority.

"There has to be an international response. That is why we will be discussing sanctions and measures," he added.

At least 60 protesters died from gunshot wounds in fresh clashes Thursday between thousands of demonstrators and heavily-armed riot police Kiev, according to an opposition medic, the deadliest day since protests against President Viktor Yanukovych first erupted three months ago.

EU ministers are holding talks in Brussels on possible sanctions against those held responsible for the bloodshed while the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are meeting in Kiev with Yanukovych.

"I think that in addition it would be good to decide an arms embargo to give a clear political sign," Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz said.

A draft statement seen by AFP that is to be finalised by the bloc's 28 foreign ministers says the EU "is gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine".

It will therefore decide "as a matter of urgency" to agree targeted sanctions against people "responsible for violence and use of excessive force", the document said.

The document also states that the EU "will implement an arms embargo and a ban on equipment used for internal repression".

If sanctions are adopted, it will mark a policy U-turn for the EU which for weeks resisted US pressure for punitive measures, preferring instead to facilitate talks on political reform between Yanukovych and his opponents.

There are no names attached to the document, although EU diplomats have told AFP that Yanukovych is unlikely to be listed.

The names of those targeted might not be made official until the weekend, said one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

- Targeted measures -

Dutch Foreign Minister Franz Timmermans, whose country along with Spain and Italy were reported to be sceptical about the effectiveness of sanctions, joined the talks appearing instead to be in favour of targeted measures.

"Those responsible for this violence must know that the European Union will punish them," Timmermans said.

However, he said that while those responsible for killings on the government side needed to be sanctioned, so too should radical groups responsible for violence.

"Those responsible on both sides should be punished," he said.

Sanctions including a travel ban and asset freeze are most likely against police chiefs and high-ranking civil servants in the interior and justice ministries, sources have told AFP.

The US State Department has already announced travel bans on about 20 senior Ukrainian government figures.

The EU draft statement strongly condemns the violence on the streets of Ukraine.

It also urges all sides to immediately engage in political dialogue and says Yanukovych must take "the first step" enabling such contact.

It reiterates the EU's calls for constitutional reform and the formation of a new government ahead of the organisation of free and fair elections.

The unrest was initially ignited by Yanukovych's shock decision in November to ditch a historic EU trade and political association agreement in favour of closer ties with Kiev's historic masters in the Kremlin.

© 2014 AFP

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