Apr 16, 2012

Australia to lift some Myanmar sanctions

Australia said on Monday it will lift sanctions against Myanmar's president and more than 200 others who are currently under travel and financial bans, after a series of reforms in the past year.

However, some 130 names will remain on the restricted list, including senior members of the military and others suspected of human rights abuses, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The decision comes just days after British Prime Minister David Cameron and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a joint call for the suspension of sanctions against the former pariah state after landmark talks.

EU foreign ministers are expected to act on the issue later this month.

"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 said.

Speaking from London where he was to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague, he said it meant the number of people in the Myanmar government subject to restrictions would be reduced from 392 to about 130.

"That removes many of the civilians from the list, and that includes President Thein Sein and government ministers," he said.

"But senior serving military officers and people of human rights interest will stay subject to those Australian sanctions."

Australia also has a longstanding ban on defence exports, which remains in place. Canberra does not impose general trade sanctions, although two-way trade is low and focuses mostly on wheat and other foodstuffs.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has surprised observers with a series of reforms following the end of nearly half a century of military rule, and historic by-elections this month have been widely praised.

The elections gave democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament after spending 15 of the past 22 years locked up by the junta.

Canberra sent a team of five observers to track the polls but Carr warned that if progress was not continued, his sanctions decision could be reversed.

"I think the president is sincere, I think he deserves these rewards but of course it's always possible to resume these sanctions," he said.

Thein Sein took office last year and has proven to be a reformist, accepting Suu Kyi and her party back into the mainstream and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.

But Western sanctions have largely remained as the international community balanced fears over the sustainability of the changes and a desire to bolster regime reformers who may face pressure from those wary of the initiatives.

However, that position could soon change after Cameron's visit last week, as the first Western leader in decades to travel to Myanmar.

While in the country, he announced a dramatic shift in stance, calling for all European Union sanctions, except an arms embargo, to be suspended -- although not scrapped completely.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose support is seen as crucial for any easing of sanctions, for the first time also called for a suspension of measures against her country.

The 27-nation European Union lifted a travel ban on 87 Myanmar officials, including Thein Sein, in February but kept an assets freeze against them.

EU foreign ministers are expected this month to also revoke an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities, experts say.

Washington announced early this month it would ease restrictions on investment to Myanmar and appoint an ambassador, but said measures would remain against those opposed to reform.

Source: AFP