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U.S. ought to back Myanmar, but only if reforms continue

Apr 12, 2012 - By The Kansas City Star

The Obama administration has, appropriately, eased sanctions on Myanmar following its recent elections, the first free and fair contests in many years.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has urged the rapid lifting of all sanctions, but Washington should not proceed in haste. The military still holds the whip hand in the former Burma -- along with the vast majority of seats in Parliament, despite gains that gave the opposition most of the seats filled in the April 1 election.

One of the winners was opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She met Wednesday with Myanmar's reformist president, U Thein Sein, another sign of thawing relations between government and the opposition.

Washington has eased some restrictions on travel to the United States by Myanmar's senior leaders and lifted a few economic sanctions.

Washington will allow the opening of an American aid office and permit U.S. nongovernmental organizations to perform development work.

Myanmar's isolation became profound in 1990 after the military government set aside an election and clamped down on most dissent. Concern about overdependence on China, the country's only major ally, no doubt played a role in the decision to permit a wider political debate.

The change is welcome and deserves steady encouragement. Eliminating the entire menu of sanctions, notably those on trade in the military-dominated timber and gem industries, will require congressional approval, and that could take time. But there's little reason to rush. The sanction-rollback process should proceed only so long as the government remains on the path of reform.

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