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US to renew Myanmar sanctions

May 14, 2016

Despite a transition to democracy in Myanmar, the US plans to renew sanctions when they expire next week, according to US officials. The US hopes the Southeast Asian country will not backtrack on reforms.

President Barack Obama and opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi hold a press conference after their meeting at her residence in Yangon, November 14, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

The successful democratic transition in Myanmar does not mean the United States will lift all remaining sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

The Obama administration will renew a bulk of these sanctions next week, and a formal announcement will be made when Secretary of State John Kerry visits the country on May 22, the Reuters news agency quoted US officials and congressional aides as saying on Saturday.

The US has already significantly eased trade and financial sanctions on Myanmar since the country's former military rulers embarked on a process of reforms in 2011.

The US has issued general licenses to companies and investors exempting them from sanctions. In December, some travel restrictions were also lifted, allowing all shipments to go through the country's ports and airports for six months.

Pro-democracy benefits

The victory of the pro-democracy National League for Democracy in last year's landmark elections had led many to believe that Washington would lift most of the sanctions, but it appears that President Obama wants to keep pressure on the country so that it does not backslide on reforms.

However, the US plans to make some changes to the existing sanctions, giving more breathing room for the private sector while maintaining pressure on the military, which continues to hold significant political power.

The US is also concerned about human rights violations in Myanmar, especially against ethnic and religious minorities.

A 'smart way'

Last month, US Senators Cory Gardner and Ben Cardin, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Foreign Relations Asia Subcommittee, expressed their concerns about human rights in Myanmar in a letter to Kerry.

"Like you we want to ensure that the US is Burma's strongest supporter on its road to democracy," the senators said in the letter, referring to the country under its other name.

US sources indicate that pro-democracy icon and the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi supported the extension of US sanctions with some changes.

"We are looking to take steps to demonstrate our support for the new democratically elected government of Burma … and that we are taking necessary steps to ensure that they succeed, that they can carry on economic developments and reforms," a senior US official said.

"At the same time, we want to do that in a smart, measured way that gives us a range of options and flexibility to respond appropriately going forward," the official added.

Myanmar´s high economic hopes as parliament opens

shs/jm (Reuters)