Experts Ask US to Use Caution in Easing Burma Sanctions

Posted April 25th, 2012 at 8:00 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday on U.S. policy toward Burma.

The hearing by a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee took place as a group of influential human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and seven other U.S.-based groups, questioned Washington's decision to ease several sanctions against Burma.

The group said any further easing of the sanctions should come only after additional political reforms, including the release of more political prisoners, an end to conflicts with ethnic rebel groups and amendments to Burma's military-drafted constitution.

The United States eased an investment ban, some travel restrictions, and other sanctions in early April after Burma held by-elections in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

Assistant Secretary of State , Kurt Campbell, said that 50 years ago, Burma was the richest, most dynamic and most promising country in East Asia. He said Burma is now one of the most backward countries in the region and the world and that it is time to bring it into the 21st century and away from a history that has been clouded by violence, repression and a lack of opportunity.”

But former congressman Tom Andrews, who is president of the group, “United to End Genocide,” cautioned that the Burmese government could still undo any positive changes and that there is still military violence against innocent civilians.

While the human rights groups remain leery about any easing of sanctions, Burma's neighbors are welcoming the moves, which promise to provide a much-needed boost to Burma's economy. In a formal statement Wednesday, the Association of South East Asian Nations hailed Europe's decision to suspend almost all sanctions for a year with the exeption of an arms embargo. The statement said it was “the right thing to do at the right time.”

Burma's current military-backed civilian government has undertaken a series of political reforms since taking power last March, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the holding of peace talks with ethnic rebels and the allowance of greater press freedoms.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Burma later this week to observe the country's transition from military dictatorship.