U.S. eases Myanmar sanctions to boost NGO projects

Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:43pm EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday 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 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 U.S. organizations and individuals to promote increased cooperation between the Burmese and the American people," a senior Treasury Department official said.

The Obama administration announced this month that it planned to gradually ease certain sanctions on Myanmar, steps that could eventually see bans lifted on U.S. companies investing in or offering financial services to the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

The move on sanctions follows a dramatic series of reforms in Myanmar, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in a parliamentary by-election this month that yielded a landslide victory for her party.

"These (steps) were action for action in response to what we viewed as very positive parliamentary elections," State Department 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 U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country's isolation and driven it closer to its powerful neighbor, China.

The United States has said it will name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development there and support a regular U.N. Development Program operation in the country.

Future steps to ease sanctions could eventually open the door to U.S. investment in Myanmar's agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking sectors, U.S. officials say.   Continued...

Supporters of Myanmar's pro-democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi wave their hands and National League for Democracy party flags at a ceremony to mark Myanmar's New Year Day in her constituency of Kawhmu township April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun