US will not ease sanctions on Myanmar - yet

Updated On: Nov 24, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Myanmar seeking progress on human rights and democratic reform next week, but it is not the right time to lift sanctions, a senior official has said.

"The secretary's visit is in part to add momentum to what's taken place and to explore what's going forward but there are no plans right now to lift sanctions," Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters.

The US bans virtually all trade with Myanmar, including in the country's lucrative gem industry. Since 2009, has pursued a policy of re engagement with Myanmar, and has promised to ease sanctions in return for political reform. Easing restrictions would require approval of Congress, where bills in support of sanctions have enjoyed overwhelming support.

Ms. Clinton's visit comes after US President Barack Obama phoned democratic leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi last week, who encouraged a high profile visit to meet with leaders of the new nominally civilian government in Myanmar. In one of the most dramatic signs yet of political change underway in the country, Ms. Clinton will make a three-day visit from November 30 to December 2 and is expected to is expected to meet with President Thein Sein and National League for Democracy de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the possibility of further reforms.

“Should the government pursue genuine and lasting reform for the benefits of its citizens, it will find a partner in the United States,” Ms. Clinton said on November 10.

Report: No easing of Myanmar sanctions in Clinton trip: US [AFP, 23 November 2011]

Report:  Clinton to visit Burma, meet Suu Kyi [Bangkok Post, 24 November 2011]

In another sign of reform, Myanmar's government has also engaged in peace talks with the country's ethnic minority groups.

During the talks, the government proposed a ceasefire with five ethnic armies who have been fighting for greater autonomy in the north and eastern provinces of the country.

Myanmar's military have been accused of human rights abuses by ethnic leaders over years of conflict, with some representatives saying it is too early to judge the intentions of the new government and a peace process, as most of the officials are former military men.

Peace talks are likely to face large challenges, warn analysts, as divisions have gone back decades, even before Myanmar’s military took control in 1962, while US engagement with Myanmar is a calculated gamble. While there is a degree of fear in the US about whether the reforms will continue, there is a sense of opportunity to engage with Myanmar, after 15 years of US isolation. Rights groups are more cautious, the regime having signalled similar movements towards political opening, only to backtrack and imprison activists again twice in the last decade. 

Opinion: Myanmar Talks With Minorities Face Big Hurdles [WSJ, 22 November 2011]

Report: Myanmar Reaches Out to Dissident Ethnic Groups Ahead of Clinton’s Visit[Bloomburg, 22 November 2011]

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