PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders called for Western countries to immediately lift punitive sanctions imposed on Myanmar now that the once-pariah nation has embraced democratic reforms, and the U.S. took steps in that direction.
The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations made the call Wednesday after concluding an annual summit in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. ASEAN member Myanmar was represented by President Thein Sein, who received a flurry of praise for his country's recent reforms, most recently Sunday's by-elections won by pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the European Union, which punished formerly military-ruled Myanmar for massive human rights violations.
"We called for the lifting of all sanctions on Myanmar immediately in order to contribute positively to the democratic process and economic development in that country," the heads of state said in a statement, promising to help when Myanmar assumes ASEAN's rotating chairmanship in 2014.
Later Wednesday, the United States said it will soon nominate an ambassador to Myanmar — its first in nearly 25 years — and ease some travel and financial restrictions. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sunday's election a "dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government" that deserved recognition.
Many presidential and legislative sanctions remain against Myanmar, however. Many were imposed after Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 that were annulled by the junta.
Clinton said the U.S. would continue to press hard for further reform, including a verifiable cut-off in military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, the release of all political prisoners and an end to decades of fighting with ethnic minorities.
During the two-day ASEAN summit, Thein Sein reported to the other leaders that the elections saw a huge turnout of voters and were held peacefully, drawing praise from his counterparts, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.
Myanmar's government, basking in newfound confidence, invited all of ASEAN's foreign ministers to visit the country's capital city of Naypyitaw as a group, possibly in the next few months, diplomats said.
Until recently, Myanmar was the black sheep of ASEAN, with other member countries repeatedly reprimanding it for its failure to move forward on a promised road map to democracy, including the freeing of Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.