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Suu Kyi: Time to ease Myanmar sanctions

Sept. 20, 2012 at 3:00 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Washington should ease sanctions on Myanmar, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said, shifting her earlier call for Washington to go slow in lifting sanctions.

The 67-year-old Nobel peace laureate and former political prisoner told The Washington Post sanctions helped steer Myanmar's formerly isolated and repressive military regime toward reform. But in many cases their usefulness had run its course, she said.

She was not specific about which sanctions she believed should remain for the time being. She told the Post she understood concerns that lifting sanctions too soon would reduce leverage on the regime to open up further.

She said investment should focus on helping overcome the country's widespread poverty and improving basic services such as roads.

Washington has normalized diplomatic relations with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and allows U.S. companies to invest in the country.

The U.S. Treasury Department Wednesday lifted sanctions against President Thein Sein and Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann. The department removed both men from its list of individuals and companies accused of links to terrorism, narcotics or other illegal activities.

Thein Sein, a former general and member of the former ruling junta, has been Myanmar's president for 18 months. He has freed hundreds of political prisoners, including more than 500 this month, and taken steps to liberalize the state-controlled economy. Suu Kyi cooperates with him.

Thein Sein is expected to participate in the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week. While there he is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials.

Suu Kyi's comments and the sanctions lifting came Wednesday when the pro-democracy leader received the Congressional Gold Medal at a Capitol rotunda ceremony. She later met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

Suu Kyi, who Congress approved to receive the medal May 5, 2008, while she was under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule, told lawmakers of both parties it was worth the wait to be honored by "a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land."

Lawmakers have worked across party lines on behalf of Suu Kyi's democracy movement.

Suu Kyi -- the only daughter of Aung San, considered the father of modern-day Burma -- said receiving the award was "one of the most moving days of my life."

The medal -- whose previous recipients include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama -- is the United States' highest civilian award, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The White House said Obama "expressed his admiration" to Suu Kyi "for her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years."

Obama "reaffirmed the determination of the United States to support their sustained efforts to promote political and economic reforms and to ensure full protection of the fundamental rights of the Burmese people," the White House said.

Obama additionally "expressed his conviction that the ongoing process of reconciliation and reform offers the people of that nation the opportunity to take charge of their destiny and to shape a more peaceful, free and prosperous future," the White House said.

The Post said Suu Kyi expressed no bitterness in her interview toward the military regime, saying she was focused now on promoting lasting political reconciliation.

She was elected in a landslide victory to the lower house of Myanmar's Parliament April 1 and her National League for Democracy party won 43 of 45 vacant seats in the house.

The Parliament is still overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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