The US lifted sanctions on two of Myanmar’s top leaders as the Congress hailed Aung San Suu Kyi as a hero of democracy in a lavish ceremony unthinkable only months ago.
The move to end the sanctions on Burmese President Thein Sein and parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann came on Wednesday, just hours after Aung San Suu Kyi had called for US sanctions crippling her impoverished nation to be lifted.
Myanmar was ruled by an iron-fisted junta for decades, but, since taking office last year, a reformist government under former general Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and allowed Aung San Suu Kyi’s party into electoral politics.
The US Treasury dropped both former generals Thein Sein and Shwe Mann from its list of “Specially Designated Nationals,” those individuals and companies sanctioned for links to terrorism, narcotics or other crimes.
The two men “have taken concrete steps to promote political reforms and human rights, and to move Burma away from repression and dictatorship toward democracy and freedom,” the Treasury said in a statement.
They had been placed on the list in 2007 as the US stepped up pressure on the then-ruling military junta, in which Thein Sein served as first secretary and Shwe Mann was joint chief of staff of the armed forces.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has taken pains to ensure the celebration around her visit does not detract from a simultaneous trip to the US by Thein Sein, who ushered in the reforms much to global surprise.
US officials say Thein Sein — who will take part in the UN General Assembly next week — deserves to be recognized for pushing through such speedy changes.
The US began rolling back its economic embargo in July, opening Myanmar up to US investment despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s earlier unease about US firms doing business with the state-owned oil and gas company.
“There are very many other ways in which the United States can help us to achieve our democratic ends and help us to build up the kind of democratic institutions that we are in such need of,” Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday. “Sanctions are not the only way.”