The U.S. on Thursday extended targeted sanctions against Myanmar for another year, but it also eased some visa restrictions imposed against members of the country’s former military regime.
The move came 10 days after the European Union decided to lift all sanctions, except for an arms embargo, against Myanmar, which has been on a resurgent path, albeit one marred by reports of sectarian violence and the government’s alleged complicity in mass killings of minorities last year.
“Burma [Myanmar] continues to make important progress in areas of core concern to the United States,” a senior State Department official said during a background briefing on the Myanmar sanctions.
“This includes a range of actions, including the release of 850 political prisoners, efforts to pursue cease-fires with armed ethnic groups, and allowing freedoms of expression, assembly, and political participation. This has included overturning fiats from the previous military regime. Additional reforms include a review mechanism to assess remaining political prisoner cases and also allowing the creation of labor unions,” the official added.
Extending the sanctions order would “maintain the flexibility necessary to target specific bad actors and prevent backsliding on reform," the official added.
Ending years of military rule, a quasi-civilian government under President Thein Sein took office in March 2011, after the country's first election in 20 years, in November 2010. Since then, he has led democratic reforms in the country.
By-elections last April saw democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win a landslide victory, and weeks later the former political prisoner was sworn into parliament.
As the EU announced the rollback on Myanmar sanctions, Human Rights Watch published a damning report in April accusing the Burmese authorities of committing “crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.” Human Rights Watch alleges the violence has been ongoing in the Arakan State dating back June 2012, causing hundreds of casualties.
The human rights group's 153-page report described the role of the Burmese government and local authorities in the forcible displacement of more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims amid the humanitarian crisis.
Although there is broad bipartisan backing in the U.S. Congress for the administration's efforts to support Myanmar reforms, the ethnic conflict has stirred concern in some quarters about the human rights situation in the country and about lifting restrictions too quickly, the Associated Press reported.
Last year, the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations and lifted most trade and investment sanctions on Myanmar.