Monday, June 17, 2024
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‘Beginning of transition’ in Myanmar: US

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WASHINGTON: The United States is loosening some travel restrictions and discussing new aid for Myanmar in response to its tentative reforms, but must see more progress on political prisoners and other issues before it can lift sanctions, senior US officials said on Sunday.

Michael Posner, the State Department’s top human rights official, and Derek Mitchell, Washington’s new special envoy for Myanmar, wrapped up a trip pledging more US help for the isolated Southeast Asian country as it seeks to shake off its pariah status.

”This is the beginning of a transition. There are some encouraging steps and signs,” Posner said at the US Embassy in Yangon, according to a transcript released by the State Department in Washington.

”We need to go forward in a way that recognizes what’s been done and what’s being done that is positive, and build on that.”

Posner and Mitchell’s visit underscored thawing ties between Washington and Myanmar, where longtime military rulers in March nominally handed power to a civilian government that introduced some reforms and started dialogue with veteran democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States, Europe and Australia have said allowing political prisoners to go free is essential before they can lift sanctions that have crippled Myanmar’s economy and driven it closer to China.

The US officials stressed that while they welcomed Myanmar’s recent decision to free some 200 political prisoners, they still wanted to see the release of all dissidents and implementation of promised reforms allowing the registration of new political parties, independent unions and freedom of assembly in the country, formerly known as Burma.

”Relations between our two governments will be eased greatly if we see significant progress in each of these areas,” Posner said.

Mitchell said full normalization of diplomatic ties was a possibility — although not right now.

”That issue has been raised by some, and it’s something we’ll look at,” he said. ”As we see reform progressing, that is something we certainly would consider.”

Mitchell, who has made three visits to the country recently, said the United States was considering expanding assistance programs on microfinance and agricultural loans and had recently held talks with the Myanmar foreign minister on a rare visit to Washington.

”So we are thinking very actively about how we can support reform by our actions,” Mitchell said.

But he said that while the U.S. team brought up specific political detainees, Myanmar officials gave ”no concrete sense of a release or release date,” making it too early to discuss dropping U.S. sanctions first imposed in 1988 after a crackdown on student-led protests.

”So far we’ve seen some very positive steps, positive gestures and so we’re starting to get ready and think about things. But we’ll need to see some much more concrete steps in order to lift the real sanctions,” Mitchell said.

”But restrictions, I should say, are being loosened on some levels, for instance, with travel of officials and such.”

Mitchell held his first meeting with the top commander of Myanmar’s military — widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes — and discussed violence against armed separatist and ethnic rebel groups, another sticking point for Western governments.

”Any reports of abuses or things that go beyond the good order and discipline of (armed) forces certainly works against the reconciliation process. So we want to have a discussion about how the military thinks about these things,” he said. (Reuters)

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