US to ease sanctions against Burma

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the easing of sanctions

The United States has announced it will further ease sanctions against Burma.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said some travel and financial restrictions would be relaxed, with Burmese leaders allowed to visit the US.

European Union leaders had said earlier on Wednesday that they would consider taking similar steps.

The news follows by-elections in Burma on Sunday in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party secured a landslide win.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) took 43 out of 45 seats up for grabs in the polls, which were generally deemed to be free and fair.

Mrs Clinton, who paid a visit to Burma last year, praised President Thein Sein's "leadership and courage".

"We fully recognise and embrace the progress that has taken place and we will continue our policy of engagement," she said.

Under the moves, the US will name an ambassador to Burma and establish an office for its Agency for International Development in the country.

The US would also begin "targeted easing" of the ban on US financial services and investment in Burma, she said without giving further details.

Analysis

The recent by-elections are being hailed as an important step in Burma's transition from decades of authoritarian military rule towards a more open, democratic and representative system. But it is a transition fraught with difficulties.

Aung San Suu Kyi will feel that the risk she took in deciding to participate in the elections has been vindicated by the scale of her party's success.

But the real test will be to see how effective she is able to be as an agent for change within parliament.

Administration officials said agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking would be among the economic sectors to be considered for the relaxation of sanctions.

Mrs Clinton said that sanctions would remain in place "on individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts".

The US eased some sanctions on Burma in February.

Political prisoners

The US move came hours after Asian leaders meeting for a regional summit issued a formal call for sanctions against Burma to be lifted immediately to help the country's political and economic development.

Speaking in London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said EU members would probably be willing to lift some of their sanctions on Burma.

"That does not mean an instant and complete opening up of trade with Burma," he added.

Mr Hague said he would keep up pressure on Burma to free political prisoners.

The Chinese foreign ministry welcomed the Western moves to relax sanctions on Burma, and called for all restrictions to be lifted.

Burma sanctions

In place:

  • US: Arms embargo, bans on investment and financial services, as well as a ban on most Burmese imports
  • EU: Ban on arms exports to, and investment in, Burma. Visa restrictions and asset freezes targeting key officials, ban on exports of gems, timber and metals
  • Canada: Asset freezes and ban on all imports and exports as well as financial services
  • Australia: Visa restrictions and ban on arms exports

Steps to ease sanctions:

  • US: To start 'targeted' liftingof investment and financial services bans. Will relax visa ban to help officials travel to US. Will maintain sanctions on people and institutions that oppose reform. Waived ban on technical assistance in February
  • EU: In January suspended visa ban on certain ministers and officials. May relax sanctions further in April

China has long been Burma's closest partner and biggest investor.

But human rights campaigners warned the West against being too quick to lift sanctions.

"To lift the sanctions immediately and totally would be premature," a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, Sunai Phasuk, told the BBC's World Today programme.

"We need to maintain leverage, we need to maintain pressure and use these to negotiate for further changes to guarantee that there will be no reversal of positive development in Burma."

Although the NLD won a landslide victory in Sunday's polls, the result barely makes a dent in the ruling military's dominance of parliament.

The army and its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) still hold about 80% of seats in parliament after elections in November 2010 that were boycotted by the NLD because of election laws they said were unfair.

Correspondents say a key test of the government's commitment to reform lies ahead, as the NLD enters parliament.

The NLD won elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power. Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest ordered by the ruling military junta.

But a series of reforms has been enacted in Burma since November 2010 after the polls which saw military rule ended and a military-backed civilian government elected to office.

 

More on This Story

Burma's Transition

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    The political system the Burmese military has put in place isn't a democracy, it's merely a forum where the people will have some representation.

    It's far too soon to be relaxing sanctions. All that is happening is that the military are playing further games. They aren't giving up control.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    Getting the right balance between carrot and stick is always difficult - as shown by the mixed reactions of these comments. The message the the world should give is that Burma hasn't yet gone far enough towards democracy, but that what has happened is a good first step - and I think the US response clearly gives both of those messages.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    I think this is a bit premature. Burma needs to prove that things are permanently changing for the better and that there will be no backsliding to the way things were. I wouldn't trust them just yet.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    The military junta has to followed like a hawk! There have been too many twists and turns in this Burmese saga! Hopefully they will stick to their promises.Giving up power is the hardest thing to do for the miltary.What with all the privileges.Aung San Suu Kyi will soldier on and she will get vital backing from Hillary Clinton.But when it comes to the crunch the junta may not keep their promises.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    This pending easing of sanctions is about the US wanting to "get in" on the oil and gas deals that China and India have enjoyed for so long. Aung Suu Kyi does not even have one-third of parliament. This is I just heard Secretary Clinton say she hopes US businesses (not citizens or institutions) can engage with Burma. I suspect Ms Suu Kyi is being pushed into this new coziness with the military.

 

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