The US Department of the Treasury yesterday relaxed sanctions on Myanmar to permit financial transactions to support certain humanitarian and development projects in the country as it moves ahead with democratic reforms after decades of military rule.
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a general license authorizing financial transactions for a range of not-for-profit projects and programs in areas such as good governance, health, education and sport.
“We are taking this step today to support a broader range of not-for-profit activity in Burma by private US organizations and individuals to promote increased cooperation between the Burmese and the American people,” a senior Treasury Department official said.
The administration of US -President Barack Obama announced this month that it planned to gradually ease certain sanctions on Myanmar, steps that could eventually see bans lifted on US companies investing in or offering financial services to the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.
“These [steps] were action for action in response to what we viewed as very positive parliamentary elections,” US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing, adding that additional measures would be forthcoming.
The Treasury’s announcement marked the first of a planned series of modest steps to unravel the complex web of US sanctions that have contributed to the country’s isolation and driven it closer to its powerful neighbor, China.
The US has said it will name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, set up an office of the US Agency for International Development there and support a regular UN Development Program operation in the country.
Future steps to ease sanctions could eventually open the door to US investment in Myanmar’s agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking sectors, US officials say.
However, US officials say they want to see clear evidence of further reforms, including the release of all political prisoners, concrete steps toward national reconciliation, especially with ethnic groups that say they have long been oppressed by the central government, and an end to any military ties to North Korea.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a statement marking Myanmar’s New Year Water Festival on Tuesday, said the last year had seen the country embark “on a historic new path toward democracy and economic development.”
“We look forward to deepening cooperation on a wide range of issues that promote democratization and national reconciliation, from increasing access to education to expanding health care and encouraging a vibrant civil society,” she said.
Pro-democracy advocates have urged the US to move cautiously, saying sanctions are an important tool to maintain pressure on Myanmar’s government to follow through on pledges of greater democratic openness.
“We need to carefully utilize the sanctions we have by gradually easing them. Major sanctions ... should be the last ones to touch,” said Aung Din, president of the US Campaign for Burma.