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UK May Ease Myanmar Sanctions Over Recent Reforms

4/12/2012 5:53 PM ET

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday that his country may ease sanctions imposed on Myanmar in wake of the recent pro-democratic reforms implemented by the country's new civilian government.

"If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that. But first I want to go and see for myself on the ground how things are going," Cameron said. The prime minister is due to visit Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on Friday and was speaking to BBC Radio 5.

Separately, Cameron addressing students at the Al Azhar University in the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta on Thursday morning said the international community must extend its full support to countries like Myanmar where pro-democracy reforms are being implemented.

"Where reform is beginning, like in Burma, we must get behind it. So let us pay tribute to those who have fought for that reform and fought for that freedom, not least the inspirational Aung San Suu Kyi."

Cameron had praises for the bravery and determination shown by Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party and a Nobel laureate. She was recently elected to Myanmar's parliament in a by-election for seats vacated by parliamentarians who were appointed to Cabinet posts or other executive positions in the government.

The by-elections were monitored by representatives of some 25 countries, including the US, EU and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They were invited by the new civilian government that took office in March 2011 as part of efforts to get the recently adopted political reforms witnessed and verified by the international community.

Suu Kyi was under house arrest for most of the past 20 years. She was freed on November 13, 2010, hours after the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) emerged victorious in a landmark election in which both she and her party were denied participation.

The NLD had secured a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, but could not assume power as the ruling military junta refused to recognize the election results. Although the NLD boycotted the November 2010 polls, the party decided to rejoin mainstream politics in December and was subsequently allowed to contest the by-polls.

Cameron, who is currently on an Asia tour, is expected to hold talks with President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi while in Myanmar. When he lands in Myanmar, Cameron will become the first Western head of state to visit the country since the democratic elections after 50 years of military rule.

Britain and other Western powers, including the United States have softened their approach toward Myanmar in recent months after reforms were initiated by the military-backed civilian government. Myanmar had earlier been slapped with several rounds of sanctions by Western nations, mostly over continued detention of political prisoners and suppression of pro-democracy protests by the military junta.

Since taking power in March 2011, the new government led by President Thein Sein has released thousands of prisoners. Those freed included journalists, government critics as well as pro-democracy and opposition activists, jailed by the military regime. The government also implemented several pro-democracy reforms demanded by the opposition and the international community.

by RTT Staff Writer

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