Australia today became the latest country to call for an easing of sanctions against Burma, by announcing that it will lift travel and financial bans for its president and more than 200 others, in response to its ongoing reform programme.
It follows Norway’s announcement yesterday that it would suspend all economic sanctions against Burma, but leave the arms embargo in place.
Both decisions come just days after British Prime Minister David Cameron and Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a joint call for the suspension of economic sanctions against the former pariah state.
Britain has until recently been one of the main advocates for exercising restraint on sanctions. But during his landmark visit last week, Cameron announced a dramatic shift in stance, although insisting that the suspension could be reversed at any stage.
“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,” Cameron said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers are expected to act on the issue later this month.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Sunday: “What Myanmar [Burma] needs now is contact with the rest of the world, economic development and international aid.”
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that some 130 names will remain on their restricted list, including senior members of the military and others suspected of human rights abuses.
“That removes many of the civilians from the list, and that includes President Thein Sein and government ministers,” Carr said. “But senior serving military officers and people of human rights interest will stay subject to those Australian sanctions.”
Australia also has a longstanding ban on defence exports, which remains in place. Canberra does not impose general trade sanctions, although two-way trade is low and focuses mostly on wheat and other foodstuffs.
Burma has surprised observers with a series of reforms following the end of nearly half a century of military rule, and historic by-elections this month have been widely praised.
The elections gave democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament after spending 15 of the past 22 years locked up by the junta.
Canberra sent a team of five observers to track the polls but Carr warned that if progress was not continued, his sanctions decision could be reversed.
“I think the president is sincere, I think he deserves these rewards but of course it’s always possible to resume these sanctions,” he said.
Thein Sein took office last year and has proven to be a reformist, accepting Suu Kyi and her party back into the mainstream and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.
The April by-elections have been broadly welcomed by the international community, with growing clamour to reduce Western-imposed sanctions.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose support is seen as crucial for any easing of sanctions, for the first time also called for a suspension of measures against her country.
The 27-nation European Union lifted a travel ban on 87 Burma officials, including Thein Sein, in February but kept an assets freeze against them.
EU foreign ministers are expected this month to also revoke an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities, experts say.
Washington announced early this month it would ease restrictions on investment to Burma and appoint an ambassador, but said measures would remain against those opposed to reform.