YANGON: Myanmar on Friday shrugged off US President Barack Obama’s decision to renew some sanctions against the country in order to spur continued reform, in a move that highlighted fears over continued rights abuses.
Obama said sanctions restricting certain investments should be renewed because the former junta-run nation still poses “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” in a letter to Congress on Thursday. But the US leader, who made a groundbreaking visit to Myanmar in 2012, also noted that the country had made significant progress on key reforms, which have swept the country onto the international stage since a quasi-civilian government replaced outright military rule in 2011.
Myanmar government spokesman Ye Htut said the sanctions, which also bar business dealings with Myanmar leaders identified as having repressed pro-democracy activists, would have a limited impact. “No problem. We will do our best with what we have be given. I do not think Myanmar’s development will be harmed because of it,” he told AFP.
Most international sanctions against Myanmar have been removed or frozen as a response to the country’s widespread changes, creating hopes of an investment boom in the impoverished nation. Foreign firms, drawn by rich natural resources and an estimated 60 million potential consumers, have begun to dip their toes into what has been dubbed Asia’s next frontier market. After years cut off from Western brands, the streets of the commercial capital Yangon are now plastered with adverts for international products, including big US names Coca Cola and Pepsi.
Obama praised key changes including the release of over 1,100 political prisoners, progress towards a nationwide ceasefire, legalisation of unions and allowing greater freedom of association and expression. But he said the US was keen to ensure that it continued to support further reform and to “ensure that the democratic transition is sustained and irreversible”. “The political opening remains nascent, and concerns persist regarding ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Rakhine State, and the continued role of the military in the country’s political and economic activities,” he said.
A growing humanitarian crisis is gripping parts of western Rakhine state, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are trapped in camps after fleeing their homes in communal clashes with local Buddhists in 2012. Many of the displaced are now without access to healthcare and other help after attacks on international humanitarian groups by Buddhist extremists earlier this year.
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