TUESDAY, 07 FEBRUARY 2012
WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday eased one of its many sanctions against Burma as a reward for political reforms after five decades of direct military rule.
The step is very limited, and most of the tough US economic, trade and political restrictions will remain in place. But it should make it easier for Burma to secure help from the World Bank and other international financial institutions by lifting US opposition to them conducting assessments.
Under anti-human trafficking legislation, the US had to oppose these bodies using their funds to help Burma. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed the waiver on Monday.
President Barack Obama authorized the move on Friday.
Other US sanctions, including the 2003 Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, still require the US to prevent the institutions from giving loans or technical assistance to the country. Years of mismanagement, isolation and internal conflict have turned what was once one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous countries into its least-developed.
The waiver follows Clinton’s landmark visit to Burma in December, the first by a US secretary of state in 56 years, when she expressed willingness to allow World Bank assessment missions. She said that was supported by Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A State Department statement on Monday said such assessments would enable greater understanding of Burma’s economic situation, particularly its “severe poverty alleviation needs.”
“The United States remains committed to supporting and partnering with the Burmese government along the path of reform,” it said.
But administration officials and US lawmakers, who have been instrumental in imposing myriad and overlapping sanctions on Burma since 1988, say more progress on democracy and human rights is needed before other sanctions can be lifted.
Free and fair conduct of by-elections that Suu Kyi and her party will contest April 1 are seen as a key test of that. There is also concern over ethnic violence and Burma’s ties to North Korea.
The waiver, effective through September, applies to some but not all of the restrictions that apply to Burma under the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Burma received a “Tier 3” rating under its annual State Department assessment, meaning it has failed to comply with minimum standards for elimination of human trafficking.
Ambassador-at-large on human trafficking issues, Luis CdeBaca, who visited Burma in January, said on Monday the waiver was rewarding Burma for its political reforms, including prisoner releases, the dialogue it has begun with Suu Kyi and ceasefires with ethnic minority armed groups.
But he said it also reflected the government’s encouraging steps in improving its treatment of human trafficking victims, particularly those repatriated from other countries, although the US remains concerned over authorities’ use of forced labor and child soldiers.
“We have seen several decent things happen on the human trafficking front,” CdeBaca told The Associated Press. “They are not out of the woods by any means. But just as with democracy and electoral reforms, we also see the beginning of a positive trend.”
The Obama administration has reversed a long-standing US policy of isolating Burma, and in January announced it would restore full diplomatic relations after 20 years without an ambassador in Burma.
That step was supported by key Republican senators, but the administration must still tread cautiously in lifting other restrictions or face criticism for moving too fast to win friends in the country, where the strings of power largely remain in military hands.
Burma and its neighbors in Southeast Asia are urging Western nations to lift sanctions now, and the European Union has already moved to lift some travel sanctions on Burma government officials.
One complicating factor in resuming loans to Burma is that it remains in arrears to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The two banks approved their last loans for Burma in 1987.
Photo : AP