News / Asia

US Announces Limited Easing of Sanctions Against Burma

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, left, listens to Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk to journalists during a press conference after their meeting at her home in Yangon. The Obama administration has support from key Republicans to restore full
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, left, listens to Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk to journalists during a press conference after their meeting at her home in Yangon. The Obama administration has support from key Republicans to restore full

The United States has eased one of its many sanctions against Burma in response to democratic reforms made by the country's military-backed government.

The State Department said late Monday it is lifting opposition to assessments of Burma by international financial institutions. The move will make it easier for the country to secure help from organizations such as the World Bank or the IMF.

Washington said it is encouraged by Burma's recent democratic reforms, including its decision to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run in upcoming elections.

Burma's Election Commission on Monday granted official approval to the Nobel Laureate's candidacy for the April parliamentary bi-election.

The State Department also praised Burma for releasing political prisoners, implementing broader civil liberties and holding peace talks with ethnic rebel groups. In addition, it praised Burma for "taking steps" to address human trafficking concerns.

But U.S. officials insist that Burma must continue its reforms before other sanctions are lifted. The economic, political and trade sanctions have been in place for decades because of human rights abuses by the country's former military government, which stepped down last March.

Nicholas Farrelly, a Burma analyst at the Australian National University, says the U.S. decision will likely embolden those within the government to continue making reforms. "They will feel justified that some of the risks that they've been taking over recent months are now starting to generate a positive response internationally, and that will likely only continue this process of reform and reinforce some of the decisions being made," he said.

The April elections are seen as a key test of whether the country's new military-backed civilian government can continue its path toward democracy.

On Sunday, A United Nations human rights envoy said Burma is considering allowing foreign observers to monitor the April elections. Tomas Ojea Quintana lauded the recent reforms but warned of "a risk of backtracking on the progress achieved thus far." He said the elections are a "key test" of the regimes commitment to reform.

The by-election is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet and other posts.  Even if the NLD sweeps the polls, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house of Parliament is heavily weighted with military appointees and allies of the former military junta.

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