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US to lift sanctions on Burma as leader Suu Kyi visits

Published 14/09/2016

US president Barack Obama and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands as they speak to media at the conclusion of a meeting in the Oval Office (AP)
US president Barack Obama and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands as they speak to media at the conclusion of a meeting in the Oval Office (AP)

US president Barack Obama confirmed America is lifting economic sanctions and restoring trade benefits to former pariah state Burma as he met with Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who is now the nation's de facto leader.

Mr Obama hailed a "remarkable" transformation in the country, which spent five decades under oppressive military rule.

Ms Suu Kyi's party swept historic elections last November, and the visit by the 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, deeply respected in Washington, is a crowning occasion in the Obama administration's support for Burma's shift to democracy.

The US has eased broad economic sanctions since political reforms began five years ago, and Mr Obama has visited the country twice.

But the US has retained more targeted restrictions on military-owned companies as well as officials and associates of the former ruling junta.

American companies and banks have remained leery of involvement in one of Asia's last untapped markets.

"The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time," Mr Obama said as he sat alongside Suu Kyi in the Oval Office.

He said it was "the right thing to do" to ensure Burma benefits from its transition. Asked by a reporter when sanctions would be lifted, Mr Obama said, "soon".

Ms Suu Kyi concurred it was time to remove all the sanctions which had hurt the economy in Burma. She urged Americans to come to the country and "make profits".

Congressional aides said that Ms Suu Kyi requested the removal of the national emergency with respect to Burma - the executive order authorising sanctions which has been renewed annually by US presidents for two decades.

A US official said that by terminating the emergency, 111 Burmese individuals and companies will be dropped from a Treasury blacklist, and restrictions will be lifted on new investment with military and on the imports of rubies and jade.

But penalties intended to block the drug trade and to bar military trade with North Korea would still apply, as would a visa ban barring some former and current members of the military from travelling to the US.

The US Chamber of Commerce has hailed the announcement as "historic".

However, human rights groups say there are compelling reasons for retaining sanctions. Military abuses continue in ethnic minority regions, while Rohingya Muslims remain displaced by sectarian violence and denied citizenship. The military and its associates also retain huge stakes in the economy.

AP

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