The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has called for Western governments to lift long-running economic sanctions against Burma as a reward for recent democratic reforms in the country, according to Cambodia’s top diplomat, who currently chairs the group.
Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said Wednesday that ASEAN had agreed to a request by Burma’s foreign minister to approach the United Nations with the aim of removing the sanctions.
“The Burmese foreign affairs minister has proposed that ASEAN [request the U.N. to] halt economic sanctions against the Burmese government,” Hor Namhong told reporters following a two-day ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Cambodia’s northwestern town of Siem Reap.
“And I would like to inform you that ASEAN as a whole agrees on the issue,” he added, speaking for the members of the 10-nation bloc, which aside from Burma and Cambodia also consists of Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
He said the minister had made the request claiming that Burma is moving away from a dictatorship and leaning towards democracy after decades of military rule ended early last year.
“Secondly, he wants ASEAN to request that the U.N. close its Good Offices mission in Burma and thirdly to help Burma block any attempts to organize an international conference on Burma,” he said.
The U.N. mission resulted from repeated United Nations General Assembly resolutions concerning the political and human rights crisis in Burma under decades of harsh military rule that ended in March last year.
Agence France Presse quoted the Singapore foreign ministry as saying that ministers at the meeting had “noted the positive developments in [Burma] and expressed their support for the lifting of sanctions.”
ASEAN made a similar call for sanctions to be removed a year ago at a meeting in Indonesia.
Series of reforms
Burma's new nominally civilian government, which came to power in March after elections, raised expectations in recent months by adopting various reforms and reaching out to the opposition and the West.
The government pardoned more than 6,300 prisoners—including about 200 political detainees—in a much-anticipated amnesty in October and offered an additional amnesty earlier this month.
A key demand of the opposition and foreign governments has been the freeing of all political prisoners, who are estimated by activists to number between 500 and more than 1,500.
Burmese President Thein Sein’s government has also enacted a series of additional reforms which have been mostly welcomed by the international community, including easing media controls, legalizing labor unions, and suspending a controversial dam project backed by China.
But the U.S. and other Western nations that have long-running sanctions on Burma are awaiting signals from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from 15 years of house arrest last November, on when to lift the restrictions.
In November, Burma was named ASEAN chair in 2014, though rights groups criticized the move as premature.
As chair of ASEAN, Burma would be required to speak on behalf of the bloc and host scores of meetings including the East Asia Summit, which includes the United States.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.