“After 24 years of stubborn campaigning for democracy in Myanmar and a steely determination to stay inside the country despite official admonishments to leave,” The New York Times reports, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will make her first foreign trip since 1988, visiting Norway and Britain.”
The news comes a day after the United States announced measures to relax financial restrictions to allow US-based non-profit groups to operate in Myanmar – also known as Burma – in order to incentivize further democratic reforms.
The Treasury Department will henceforth permit transactions if funds are for projects that “meet basic human needs” or promote democracy.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers the Treasury Department’s sanctions, issued a brief, two-page license explaining that transactions in support of the following not-for-profit activities are authorized:
- (1) projects to meet basic human needs;
- (2) democracy-building and good-governance projects;
- (3) educational activities;
- (4) sporting activities;
- (5) non-commercial development
While welcoming the new measures, some democracy advocates oppose a wider relaxation of sanction.
Easing a ban on financial services “may allow the cronies and the military to be able to use US dollars in their transactions,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner who heads the US Campaign for Burma.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said the U.S. is likely to ease investment restrictions in sectors such as tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and banking. But it would retain bans on sectors such as natural resources and precious stones perceived to be closed linked to the military. Oil, natural gas and timber are key money earners for the country, also known as Burma.
The European Union is also planning to ease economic sanctions, High Representative Catherine Ashton told the European Parliament.
“Myanmar is such a rare case,” she said. “Everything we see points to a government which is serious about change and wants to end its country’s isolation.”.
The 1 April free by-elections organised in the country, together with the release of political prisoners and the “real effort for peace in the ethnic areas” are signs of a “democratic transition unfolding in a peaceful, collaborative fashion,” Ashton noted. “In January, we suspended the visa bans on the government of Myanmar. At the end of this month, we will do more,” she said. Existing sanctions will be reviewed by the member states’ foreign ministers, on 23 April, during their meeting in Luxembourg. Ministers are expected to lift economic sanctions against companies and individuals. However, the existing arms embargo will remain in force, according to EU sources. In February, the ministers agreed to lift restrictive measures against the president, vice-presidents, cabinet members and the speakers of the two houses of parliament and their family members.
Announcing the easing of U.S. penalties, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Burma’s government “has taken important steps on an historic new path toward democracy and economic development,” including recent by-elections, the release of political prisoners and liberal economic reforms.
“As you build a brighter future filled with new opportunities, the United States will continue to work with you to strengthen mutual understanding and trust between our two countries and peoples,” she said.