US eases economic sanctions on Myanmar

US President Barack Obama and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi speak during a press conference at her residence in Yangon on November 14, 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption US President Barack Obama last met with Aung San Suu Kyi in 2014

The US has lifted more of its economic sanctions on Myanmar to signal its support for ongoing political reform after decades of military rule.

The US removed 10 state-owned companies in the banking, timber and mining industries from the blacklist.

However, most restrictions on trade and investment with Myanmar's still-powerful army remained in place.

This year Myanmar, also known as Burma, swore in its first democratically-elected government in over 50 years.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest, won a landslide victory in what was considered a largely free and fair election in November. Although the constitution bars her from becoming president, she still wields considerable influence.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Aung San Suu Kyi's close friend Htin Kyaw was sworn in as president earlier this year

Analysis - Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Myanmar

There's no doubt that this nuanced easing of sanctions has been done with the approval of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Most of the restrictions that affect her new government directly have been lifted. So 10 state-owned companies and banks have been taken off the targeted sanctions list. It's also been made easier for Americans to live and work inside Myanmar.

But despite November's election and the smooth transfer of power that followed there's no reward here for the Burmese military. Army companies and dozens of individuals who've made millions from military contracts are still sanctioned. One of the so-called "cronies" has even had measures against him expanded.

US President Barack Obama was quick to visit Myanmar but at the urging of Ms Suu Kyi has been more cautious on the lifting of trade and travel restrictions.

The US said its latest move is aimed at improving trade with Myanmar and allowing more financial transactions to take place.

But the Obama administration is also trying to maintain pressure on the government to continue its democratic transition.

More than 100 individuals and companies are still on Washington's sanctions list, meaning US firms are barred from doing deals with them. The country's military retains significant stakes in many of Myanmar's businesses.

US officials also remain concerned about potential human rights abuses in the country, particularly against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

Timeline of political reform in Myanmar

2010 - After decades of being an international pariah Myanmar holds its first elections in 20 years.

The main military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claims resounding victory but opposition groups allege widespread fraud. The junta says the election marks the transition from military rule to a civilian democracy.

2011 - Thein Sein is sworn in as president of a new, nominally civilian government and that year the US begins loosening sanctions.

2012 - The European Union suspends all non-military sanctions against Burma for a year.

2013 - President Thein Sein visits Washington. President Obama praises Myanmar's political and economic progress, but criticises violence against Rohingya Muslims.

2015 - A draft ceasefire agreement is signed between the government and 16 rebel groups.

2016 - Htin Kyaw sworn in as president, ushering in a new era as Aung San Suu Kyi's democracy movement takes power after 50 years of military domination.

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