US Suspends Economic Sanctions on Burma

Posted May 18th, 2012 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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The United States has declared a new phase in its relationship with Burma, suspending economic sanctions and naming the first U.S. ambassador to the southeast Asian nation in more than 20 years.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement Thursday alongside visiting Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, who is on his nation's first official to Washington in decades.

“So today we say to American businesses: invest in Burma and do it responsibly. Be an agent of positive change and be a good corporate citizen. Let's all work together to create jobs, opportunity, and support reform.”

Clinton said she expects U.S. companies to be able to deal in all Burmese sectors unless local reputations or practices of certain companies are not in keeping with U.S. policy of corporate responsibility.

She also said Derek Mitchell, the State Department's special representative to Burma, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the country. In return, her Burmese counterpart said its own ambassador would be sent to Washington.

But Clinton said the U.S. would maintain its arms embargo and other laws that underpin wider sanctions against Burma because Washington wants to see a move for the country's armed forces to go under civilian control.

“We are suspending sanctions, we believe that is the appropriate step for us to take today. We will be keeping relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy, but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.”

Under international pressure, Burma's military government relinquished power and permitted multi-party elections last year. Since then, the new, nominally civilian government has released hundreds of political prisoners and cleared the way for the country's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to launch a successful campaign for parliament.

But many rights groups criticized the U.S. announcement, saying Burma has not yet made deep enough reforms. The U.S. Campaign for Burma said Thursday the U.S. is sending the wrong message at a time when Burma's military is waging a campaign against its ethnic Kachin minority in the north.

In a statement Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the “important strides” made by Burma. But warned that the reforms are reversible and said he is still concerned about remaining political prisoners, ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic areas.

Last month, the European Union suspended a wide range of sanctions against Burma for the next year. Officials said the time-specific easement was to encourage the new government to pursue additional democratic reforms. It also is designed to penalize the government if it fails in the next year to end its military conflicts with ethnic minorities.