The US yesterday ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Burma, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the regime on ending ethnic violence and other key issues.
The EU and Canada this week suspended most sanctions and Japan waived Burma’s debt as rewards after a dramatic year of reforms in which President Thein Sein freed political prisoners and reached out to opponents.
President Barack Obama’s administration has taken a lead in negotiating with Burma and has eased some restrictions, including ending a ban on financial transactions by US non-governmental organisations.
But Kurt Campbell, a key architect of the US outreach to Burma, told cautious lawmakers that the administration had no “gauzy gaze and rose-coloured glasses” and would only ease sanctions in “certain prescribed areas.”
“I would simply say that there is no intention to ‘lift’ sanctions,” Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We recognise very clearly that there have to be provisions and capabilities to be able to respond if there is a reversal or a stalling out (of reforms), that leverage is an essential component of our strategy,” he said.
Campbell hailed actions taken by Thein Sein, including the decision to allow 1 April elections that gave Aung San Suu Kyi a seat in parliament.
But Campbell said reforms have mostly impacted urban and Burman-majority areas and have not been felt by ethnic minorities in the country, which has some of the world’s longest-running separatist conflicts.
“We need to ensure that that process extends into the country as a whole and we are troubled by very clear – and we believe reliable – reports of continuing attacks and atrocities that are completely antithetical to the overall effort that we’re seeking to achieve,” he said.
Human rights groups have voiced particular concern about allegations of rape, forced labour and other abuses in Kachin state, where troops appeared to ignore Thein Sein’s orders in December to halt violence.
The US maintains strict sanctions against exports from Burma, including on gems, lumber and other lucrative products seen as sources of funding for the long-dominant military.