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Senators Introduce Bill to Increase US Aid to Myanmar

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, center, sits with Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw, (Right), and Vice President Henry Van Hti Yu as they smile for a photo session following the Union Peace Conference-21st Century Panglong.

Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday that will provide increased financial and military aid to Myanmar, also known as Burma, which is nearly a year out from its first democratic election in nearly five decades.

Cardin said the legislation recognizes that the current sanctions levied against the country are based upon a time when the Myanmar government was far more oppressive. He said it grants relief for those sanctions, but also sets out standards for future relations between the U.S. and Myanmar.

“It offers economic assistance, it offers ways in which we can have direct involvement people-to-people as well as military-to-military,” he told VOA. “It also provides further ways in which our two countries can work together.”

The Burma Strategy Act of 2016 sets guidelines for sanctions relief and calls on the Secretary of State to modify or lift sanctions going forward based on the country’s progress in making changes to its transparency practices and other good governance goals.

The bill ramps up economic assistance from the U.S. seeks to pressure international financial institutions to support initiatives in Myanmar. It also authorizes the U.S. military to engage Myanmar's soldiers in English language training and other programs designed to reinforce civilian control of the military.

“After nearly 50 years of military rule, Burma has achieved a historic milestone with a democratic election and successful transition of power to a civilian-led government. This extraordinary development warrants reconsideration of U.S. policy towards Burma, and this legislation seeks to usher in a new era of relations between our two countries that will support continued progress towards democracy, human rights and peace for the Burmese people,” McCain said in a statement.

The introduction of the bill coincides with a visit to the U.S. by Myanmar's State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and long-time human rights activist. Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with several members of Congress during her visit.

Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest under Myanmar's military dictatorship prior to the 2015 election in which her National League for Democracy party won power. She has two sons who are British citizens, which according to Myanmar's constitution bars her from serving as president, so she was given the title of state counselor and foreign minister instead.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Burmese service