Southeast Asian nations on Thursday welcomed a US decision to ease sanctions on Myanmar in reward for democratic reforms, but repeated calls for all restrictions to be lifted on the former pariah state.
Washington on Wednesday allowed its firms to invest in Myanmar — including in its oil and gas industries — in its widest relaxation of sanctions so far, as the resource-rich country emerges from 50 years of military rule.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa hailed the US announcement as “fantastic news” and a sign that “we are all on the right track.”
“It’s an acknowledgment of the important developments taking place in Myanmar,” he told reporters at a regional security forum in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul echoed the enthusiasm for the roll-back of trade and investment curbs, but urged the US to go even further.
“If they can ease all the sanctions that would be better, like Australia. That’s what we would like to see,” he told reporters.
International firms are clamoring for a foothold in resource-rich Myanmar as the West begins to lift tough sanctions to encourage the country’s fledgling democratization process.
The sanctions came into force in the 1990s in response to the junta’s human rights abuses.
In April, the European Union suspended for one year a wide range of trade, economic and individual sanctions, although it left intact an arms embargo.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose 10 members are all attending this week’s talks in Cambodia, has repeatedly urged the EU and the US to remove all sanctions against fellow member Myanmar.
The regional bloc has itself rewarded Myanmar for its reform efforts by handing it the chair of Asean in 2014.
The forum’s head Surin Pitsuwan said the US relaxation of restrictions would “help Myanmar prepare itself for its own chairmanship in 2014 because it will bring in a lot of opportunities, a lot of expertise, a lot of experiences.”