Australia Lifts Myanmar Sanctions to Bolster Democratic Opening

Australia will lift sanctions against Myanmar, which is emerging from decades of economic and political isolation, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.

“This is a time of great opportunity for the people of Myanmar, and countries like Australia should be doing what we can to add momentum to the process of democratization,” Carr, who is on a three-day visit to the Asian nation, said in an emailed statement today. “By lifting our remaining travel and financial sanctions, Australia is lending further support to the reforms under way.” An arms embargo will remain, Carr said.

Myanmar is enhancing economic, military and political ties with Western nations after years of isolation that left its 64 million people among Asia’s poorest. The country’s transition to democracy in recent months after about five decades of military rule has prompted the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, among the leaders Carr met in Myanmar, was last week allowed to visit Thailand, her first trip outside Myanmar since 1988, and is due to travel to France, Switzerland, Norway and the U.K. later this month.

Myanmar is open to changing its constitution to reduce the military’s role at an appropriate time, Defense Minister Hla Min said at a June 3 conference in Singapore. The nation’s charter allocates 25 percent of parliamentary seats to soldiers.

Speaking at the same conference, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he would discuss a security relationship with Myanmar officials as engagement between the nations improves.

Australian aid to Myanmar will more than double to A$100 million a year by 2015, Carr said in a separate statement, much of it to be directed to education and health projects.

“Myanmar has made great strides over the past year, though there is more to be done,” Carr said. “Promoting and, where necessary, having robust discussions about human rights and democracy in Myanmar will remain a central element of our engagement.” The sanctions will be lifted over the coming weeks, he said, and can be reimposed if required.

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