Yesterday Canberra eased some of its sanctions against Myanmar's military-backed government. Furthermore, “members of Burma’s new Government who were not previously on Australia’s sanctions list will not be listed at this time”.
From now on, targeted financial sanctions and travel restrictions will be lifted on “former Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are no longer in politics [and on] tourism officials”.
The decision came as democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to contest by-elections on April 1. An important Burmese presidential adviser said that after the by-elections Ms Suu Kyi would be given a “suitable” position in government if she wishes so. Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party (NLD) has endorsed reforms instituted by President Thein Sein that include legalizing labor unions and freeing a number of political prisoners.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced the easing of sanctions during a visit to Indonesia.
"The changes to the sanctions list are an acknowledgment that Burma is taking a number of important steps toward a more open democracy and greater engagement with the region... We hope positive developments, such as the increased participation of opposition parties in the political process, the release of around 220 political prisoners, and new labor laws that will legalize trade unions, will continue. In this context we will keep our approach to sanctions under review," Rudd said in the statement.
Australian opposition spokeswoman Julie Isabel Bishop (Liberal Party) backed the Government's decision, while the Greens and Burma Campaign Australia's Zetty Brake expressed disappointment. ''It is not appropriate for sanctions to be eased at this time,'' Zetty Brake said.
Nicholas Farrelly, a research fellow in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, commented that "everything to do with sanctions is... limited, Western and symbolic. These recent moves from Australia serve to reinforce that argument. But, at the very least, we are incrementally moving to a situation where debate about Burma policy can move beyond the inadequate preoccupation with elite sanctions. This is undoubtedly a positive outcome and I hope it also sends yet another small signal to Naypyidaw that the world is watching developments closely."
"Compared to sanctions," Dr Farrelly continued, "which has always been a distraction from the main issues, the ethnic conflicts really do matter. Simply, without peace in places like the Kachin State there will be no peace for Burma. Today Kachin leaders are also trying to draw attention to their plans for secession if a fully federal system is rejected. Even once the last of the sanctions are removed there will still be plenty to discuss."