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Australia To Ease Sanctions On Myanmar

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Monday that his country would soon lift some of the travel and financial restrictions imposed on Myanmar, adding that the move was in response to the recent pro-democracy reforms implemented in the Southeast Asian nation by its new civilian government.

"We're easing sanctions after talking to Aung San Suu Kyi and others in the Opposition, after talking to the government itself, (and) after talking to other nations," Carr told reporters in London ahead of meeting with his British counterpart William Hague.

Separately, a statement issued by the office of Australia's Trade and Competitiveness Craig Emerson said Canberra was reducing the number of people covered by its earlier travel and financial sanctions from 392 to about 130. Those removed from the sanctions list include dozens of civilians, reformists in the government and President Thein Sein. Nevertheless, "serving military figures and individuals of human rights concern will remain" on the list, while an earlier imposed arms embargo stays.

On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron had said during a visit to Myanmar that his country might also lift some of its sanctions on Myanmar in acknowledgment of the recent pro-democratic reforms implemented by the government. Cameron made the remarks after meeting separately with President Thein Sein and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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

She 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.

The by-elections held earlier this month were monitored by representatives of some 25 countries, including the U.S., EU and members of the Association of South East 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.

Earlier this month, the United States eased its sanctions on Myanmar as a reward for its rapid democratic transition, allowing senior Myanmar officials to visit America and the export of U.S. financial services and investment to the natural resource-rich nation. In addition, Washington plans to send an Ambassador to Myanmar soon and initiate steps to set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the country.

Western powers, including the United States and Britain, 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 over 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 RTTNews Staff Writer

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