Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called for a suspension of economic sanctions against Myanmar following landmark talks.
“I think there are prospects for change in Burma and I think it is right for the rest of the world to respond to those changes,” he said, using the country’s former name.
“Of course we must respond with caution, with care. We must always be skeptical and questioning because we want to know those changes are irreversible,” he said in Yangon.
“But as we discussed I think it is right to suspend the sanctions that there are against Burma,” with the exception of the arms embargo, Cameron said.
Aung San Suu Kyi agreed, saying: “I support the idea of the suspension of sanctions rather than the lifting of sanctions.”
Earlier yesterday, Cameron held talks with Burmese President Thein Sein as he became the first Western leader to visit the country in decades. Thein Sein hailed the summit as “historic” as he welcomed Cameron to his official residence in the regime’s capital, Naypyidaw.
The historic trip comes as world powers consider lifting economic sanctions against the former pariah state following recent elections that gave Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi her first-ever seat in parliament.
Britain, Myanmar’s former colonial ruler, has traditionally taken a hardline stance on sanctions because of human rights concerns.
“Where reform is beginning, like in Burma, we must get behind it,” Cameron told university students in Jakarta on Thursday during a regional tour that also took him to Japan and Malaysia.
“And let us show that when they have the courage to reform, we have the courage to respond,” he said.
A steady stream of foreign dignitaries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, have visited Myanmar since a new quasi-civilian government took power last year.
However, Cameron is the first Western head of government to go there since the military seized power in 1962, ushering in almost half a century of repressive junta rule and isolation from the West.
The 27-nation EU already lifted some restrictions against the regime this year and foreign ministers will decide the next steps when they meet on April 23.
If Myanmar can persuade Cameron that reforms will continue, the EU could agree to a “substantial relaxation of sanctions,” said Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Thailand and an advocate of engagement with Naypyidaw.
However, the impact of EU sanctions had been limited and moves to end the stigma of doing business in Myanmar could be more significant, he said.
“I think as far as most people are concerned, they would like the discouragement of trade, investment and tourism — which has been the particular British hallmark — to stop so that it’s OK for Standard Chartered, HSBC, Shell and BP and other British companies to go in,” Tonkin said.