U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday announced plans to end economic and financial sanctions against Myanmar, which have been in effect since a military coup two decades ago. The announcement came following a White House meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, a democracy advocate who spent years under house arrest before being elected state counselor.
Obama did not provide a timetable for lifting the sanctions against the country formerly known as Burma, saying only it would happen “soon.”
“When I was first elected, Daw Suu was still under house arrest,” Obama said after the meeting. “And because, in part of advocacy by the United States and others in the international community, but more importantly, because of the courage and strength and resilience of the Burmese people, what we've seen over the last several years is a transition to elections, a representative Legislature that still has significant constraints from the previous military government but is giving voice to the hopes and dreams of a new generation of Burmese people.”
The State Department said Obama will use his executive powers to end the sanctions imposed in 1997 to promote further progress.
Obama, who recently visited Myanmar, hailed Suu Kyi’s plans to convene a peace conference to end armed conflicts among ethnic groups in the Southeast Asian country.
“In my country, fighting has been going on for decades, ever since we became an independent nation,” Suu Kyi said. “We've never known a time when there was peace throughout the country. There was always fighting going on at some time, or someplace or the other.”
Suu Kyi noted there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar and it is imperative they unite to achieve prosperity.
“If we can all come together, help them to develop the potential and to eliminate the poverty that so destroys the unity, I think it would be helping not just one country, but the world at large, by proving that divisions can be overcome, that we can create unity out of diversity, that we can put aside suspicion and misunderstandings, and come to an agreement so that we can all do this together,” she said.
The country is rich in jade, gems, oil, natural gas and other minerals. The country gained its independence from Britain in 1948 and was ruled by the military until 1990 when elections were held. The elected government was overthrown in 1997 and the junta changed the country’s name to Myanmar. The country held its first openly contested elections since 1990 last November and a new Parliament convened in February.