US green light for Myanmar aid work

The United States has eased financial sanctions against Myanmar to enable US-based non-government organisations to  to operate in the country in recognition of recent political reforms in the Southeast Asian nation.

The announcement by the treasury department on Tuesday allows transactions in support of aid groups and charities working in areas such as democracy-building, health and education, sports and religious activities.

It follows recent by-elections in which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament, the release of hundreds of political prisoners, and a raft of reforms implemented by a military-backed civilian government since Myanmar’s generals ended decades of direct rule in 2010.

Myanmar has been isolated for decades by sanctions imposed over human rights concerns and the country is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia.

But the US government has said it will  “meet action with action,” gradually easing sanctions to reciprocate the government’s democratic changes. The European Union and Australia have also made moves towards easing sanctions. Continue reading “US green light for Myanmar aid work”

Germany-and-Burma Business-before-human-rights

Financial Times (UK): It is time to fine-tune sanctions on Burma – Markus Loening 

It was strange to be the first high-ranking European to visit Burma since the country’s supposed democratic breakthrough. Since November’s flawed elections we have been trying to steer the country towards democracy, yet no one I met seemed to know who was in charge. Was the “old man” – the supposedly retired military dictator Than Shwe – still pulling the strings? Big pictures of the Junta’s former strongman hog public spaces apparently because the Burmese are afraid to take them down. Eight months after large crowds cheered the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident Nobel laureate, there is still confusion in this small but politically sensitive Asian nation.Human rights continue to be violated, ordinary citizens are scared of voicing their views, ethnic conflicts have not been resolved and there is a huge problem brewing with refugees and internally displaced people. As we are discovering in the Arab world, there is no straightforward way of moving from dictatorship to democracy.

I was struck though in every meeting – with civil society activists, opposition party leaders, with Ms Suu Kyi herself – by the strength of optimism in Burma. There was real hope for political change that seemed impossible even three months ago. Again and again, patience was urged on me.

Should we give Burma more time? How can the European Union build on the optimism of the Burmese, their natural dynamism, while still keeping pressure on the regime? It is a complex balancing act.

But we have to act soon, and together, if we are to influence policy there. The EU has just extended its economic and political sanctions against Burma to April 2012. That is a right step. But the sanctions should be fine-tuned, linked to performance and lifted, stage by stage, to reward progress. They should not be allowed to become a blunt instrument. If the government is serious about change it will set about releasing political prisoners – some of whom have suffered far worse than Ms Suu Kyi’s 15 years of house arrest – and it will open a genuine national dialogue including the ethnic and political opposition groups. The aim has to be free and fair by-elections in November. Each liberalising move should be acknowledged by the west.

By the end of this year, the EU has to decide whether Burma can be included again, at least partly, in our general system of trade preferences. That is a big carrot to dangle before the government. Despite considerable natural resources, the country and the people are poor. Opening up the markets to Burma, allowing it to attract foreign investors, would ease modernisation and relieve poverty. Continue reading “Germany-and-Burma Business-before-human-rights”