Myanmar is unlikely to backtrack on reforms and the West should lift sanctions “without delay” to help the process, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report yesterday.
“Myanmar has turned away from five decades of authoritarianism and has embarked on a bold process of political, social and economic reform,” the ICG said in Reform in Myanmar: One Year On, released in Jakarta and Brussels.
“Those in the West who have long called for such changes must now do all they can to support them. The most important step is to lift the sanctions on Myanmar without delay,” it said.
Noting the April 23 EU -meeting on whether to renew sanctions, the ICG said: “The value of the coercive measures must be reconsidered.”
Since the end of direct military rule last year, the new regime has surprised even its critics with a slew of reforms, including welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics, signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.
ICG Southeast Asia project director Jim Della-Giacoma said observers have questioned whether the speedy reforms would be sustainable.
“The broad consensus among the political elite on the need for fundamental change means that the risk of a reversal appears low,” Della-Giacoma said.
Last week, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a historic victory in by-elections, seen as the culmination of burgeoning reforms by the new government.
The EU is considering “substantially” easing sanctions against the nation, according to a senior diplomat.
Washington announced last week it would ease selected sanctions, but said measures would remain against those opposed to reform.
The ICG said that anything short of a blanket lifting of sanctions would undermine the country’s progress.
In the past year, Myanmar has passed laws that allow public assembly and workers’ strikes, and that eased heavy censorship laws on local media.
Myanmar President Thein Sein’s government has also signed peace deals with rebel groups in an effort to end a civil war that has gripped parts of the country since independence in 1948, but the government has yet to reach a deal with Kachin rebels in the north, where fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people.
An end to the conflicts and alleged rights abuses by troops is a key demand of Western nations that have imposed sanctions on the regime.