Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s party welcomed a US decision to ease sanctions on Myanmar yesterday, but the opposition leader demanded more “transparency” as foreign firms hungrily eye the country’s energy sector.
Washington on Wednesday gave the green light for firms to invest in Myanmar, including in oil and gas, its greatest loosening of sanctions so far to reward reforms in the former pariah as it emerges from 50 years of military rule.
The US decision, which was swiftly followed by the announcement of top-level talks with Myanmar this week, comes despite concerns by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi about the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
Aung San Suu Kyi — whose voice is highly influential in Washington — yesterday said the US move was “nothing significant,” but repeated calls for the international community to pressure MOGE, which was closely linked to the junta government that was replaced by a reformist regime last year.
“What I said was they should ask MOGE to have transparency, I don’t know whether they asked or not,” Aung San Suu Kyi said, adding that the state-owned body should sign up to IMF codes of conduct.
Her National League for Democracy said that the US decision was not at odds with the party’s view that lifting tough Western sanctions should be considered if it would help regenerate the country’s moribund economy.
“There is nothing to be disappointed about,” party spokesman Nyan Win said in response to the US decision, adding that the US “did what they should do.”
International firms are clamoring for a foothold in resource-rich Myanmar as the West begins to lift tough economic and financial sanctions on the nation, left impoverished by decades of mismanagement and isolation under army rule.
The announcement will soothe fears by US businesses that they will lose out to European and Asian competitors that already enjoy access to the potentially lucrative economy.
It also signals Washington’s desire to bolster Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein, a former junta general who has surprised the West with a series of dramatic changes.
“President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms,” US President Barack Obama said in a statement released on Wednesday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to meet Thein Sein on the sidelines of a business conference in Cambodia today to discuss the easing of US sanctions, a senior US State Department official told reporters in Phnom Penh.
The Burmese leader yesterday urged the West to lift all sanctions against his country as it grapples to invigorate its economy with a “second wave” of reforms.
“It is extremely important that sanctions be lifted — both financial and other economic sanctions — to make possible the sort of trade and investments that this country desperately needs at this time,” he told the Financial Times.
Thein Sein also pledged “maximum transparency” in extractive industries, which have long been the target of rights campaigners concerned over abuses and cronyism in the sector.
Under the new rules, US companies will have the right to enter into business with MOGE, but must notify the US State Department within 60 days.