CHIANGRAI TIMES – British Prime Minister David Cameron and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a joint call Friday for the suspension of sanctions against the former pariah state after landmark talks.
Cameron also met Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein as he became the first Western leader in decades to visit the country, which languished for decades under a repressive junta until military rule ended last year.
The British premier announced a dramatic shift in stance on sanctions following Suu Kyi’s recent election to parliament, calling for all measures except the arms embargo to be suspended.
“I think there are prospects for change in Burma and I think it is right for the rest of the world to respond to those changes,” Cameron said.
“Of course we must respond with caution, with care. We must always be sceptical and questioning because we want to know those changes are irreversible. But as we discussed I think it is right to suspend the sanctions that there are against Burma.”
Britain — Myanmar’s former colonial ruler — has traditionally taken a hardline stance on sanctions because of human rights concerns.
The 27-nation European Union already lifted some restrictions against the regime this year and foreign ministers will decide the next steps when they meet on April 23.
Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past 22 years locked up at the hands of the former junta, for the first time also called for the suspension of sanctions against her country.
“We still have a long way to go but we believe that we can get there. I believe that Thein Sein is genuine about democratic reforms,” she said.
A steady stream of foreign dignitaries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, have visited Myanmar since a new quasi-civilian government took power last year.
But Cameron is the first Western head of government to go there since the military seized power in 1962, ushering in almost half a century of repressive junta rule and isolation from the West.
He is believed to be the first serving British prime minister to visit Myanmar, which won independence in 1948.
In February, the European Union lifted a travel ban on 87 Myanmar officials, including Thein Sein, but kept an assets freeze against them.
Other sanctions include an arms embargo, a ban on gems and an assets freeze on nearly 500 people and 900 entities.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight world powers — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — on Thursday welcomed “significant steps” by Myanmar toward democratic reform.
“The ministers will consider the easing of sanctions to help this country embed reform and fully integrate into international and regional political and economic processes,” they said in a final statement after talks in Washington.
Cameron was accompanied by a group of British corporate executives, but because of the sanctions they were expected to refrain from any business-related activities.