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US Eases Sanctions On Myanmar

4/18/2012 2:04 AM ET

The United States has eased some of the financial restrictions it had imposed on Myanmar to allow non-governmental groups to operate in the country in response to the recent pro-democratic reforms implemented by the Southeast Asian country's new civilian government.

The measures announced by the U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday allows American non-governmental groups to carry out humanitarian, religious and educational activities in Myanmar and assist in democracy building and good governance projects. They also allow sporting ties and "non-commercial development projects directly benefiting the Burmese people."

The move comes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced during a trip to Myanmar (previously Burma) earlier this month that Washington would soon initiate steps to ease some of the travel and financial restrictions it had imposed on the Southeast Asian nation. She added that The U.S. would soon send an Ambassador to Myanmar and take steps to set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the country.

On Monday, Australia had lifted some its travel and financial restrictions on Myanmar, including the reduction of the number of people covered by its sanctions from 392 to about 130. Those removed from the sanctions list included dozens of civilians, reformists in the government and President Thein Sein. Nevertheless, "serving military figures and individuals of human rights concern" remained on the list, while an earlier imposed arms embargo stayed.

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.

Western powers, including the United States and Britain, have softened their approach toward Myanmar in recent months in the wake of reforms 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. Among those freed were Opposition activists including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as journalists and government critics jailed by the previous military regime. The government has also implemented several pro-democracy reforms demanded by the opposition and the international community.

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. 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.

by RTT Staff Writer

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