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Obama ends US economic sanctions on Burma


Ms Suu Kyi had visited the US in recent weeks

Ms Suu Kyi had visited the US in recent weeks

Ms Suu Kyi had visited the US in recent weeks

Barack Obama has lifted US economic sanctions on the former pariah state of Burma.

The White House said the US president signed an executive order lifting the sanctions on Friday.

He had announced plans to do so last month, when Burma's new civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited the Oval Office.

Mr Obama's move marks the culmination of years of rapprochement between the US and Burma which the outgoing US leader has worked to facilitate.

The south-east Asian nation has pursued political reforms over the last five years following decades of oppressive military rule.

The US has already eased broad economic sanctions on Burma, including prohibitions on investment and trade.

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

Mr Obama's executive order removes the national emergency with respect to Burma - the executive order authorising sanctions which has been renewed annually by US presidents for two decades.

It also lifts a ban on the importation of jadeite and rubies, and removes banking restrictions.

Mr Obama wrote in a letter to leaders of Congress: "I have determined that the situation that gave rise to the national emergency with respect to Burma has been significantly altered by Burma's substantial advances to promote democracy, including historic elections in November 2015."

He said the US intends to use other means to support Burma in the "significant challenges" it still faces.

Some Burmese nationals will remain on the US treasury department's list of specially designated nationals under other sanctions, such as those intended to block the drug trade, a US Treasury statement said. This bars them from any business dealings with the US.

Human rights groups have argued that lifting sanctions is premature as the US will lose leverage over Burma's powerful military. Despite the election victory by Ms Suu Kyi's party last year, the military still wields major political and economic influence.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the US senate's foreign relations committee, voiced support for the lifting of sanctions, but remained concerned over the plight of Rohingya Muslims, ethnic reconciliation and reform of a junta-era constitution which guarantees the military a quarter of Burma's parliamentary seats.

Mr Cardin said: "Even as we lift these sanctions, we must maintain a focus on on-going concerns regarding the role of the military in Burma's economy and politics."

He also noted that Ms Suu Kyi had raised the issue when she met with senators during her Washington visit last month.

Mr Obama's efforts over Burma reflect his willingness to engage with American adversaries - others being Cuba and Iran. His administration has also sought to promote US strategic interests in Asia.

During its years of international isolation, Burma was heavily reliant on its northern neighbour China, which remains a key source of trade and investment.