Asia

US relaxes some Burma sanctions, appoints ambassador

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Media captionHillary Clinton: ''Our goal is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities''

The United States has eased some sanctions on investment and relations with Burma in response to political reform there.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said broader laws on sanctions against Burma would remain in place to safeguard against "backsliding".

Restrictions on investments have been relaxed and the first US ambassador in 22 years has been announced.

The move follows limited democratic reform in Burma.

A nominally civilian government was elected in 2010 and, in April of this year, opposition politicians entered parliament following historic by-elections.

However, the government is still dominated by the military and concerns over political repression and human rights abuses continue.

Expanding opportunities

After meeting Burma's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Mrs Clinton told a joint news conference: "Today we say to American businesses, invest in Burma, and do it responsibly."

"We will be keeping the relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy, but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities," she said.

The secretary of state said that Derek Mitchell, the State Department's coordinator for Burma policy, would be nominated to return to the country as US ambassador.

Striking a note of caution, President Barack Obama told the US Congress the administration continues "to have concerns, including remaining political prisoners, ongoing conflict and serious human rights abuses in ethnic areas".

The European Union has already suspended most of its Burma sanctions, a move which was welcomed by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Both the US and EU have kept arms embargos in place.

Ms Suu Kyi was recently released from house arrest to lead her National League for Democracy party to win 43 seats in last month's parliamentary by-elections.

Despite their poll victory, opposition politicians will remain very much in the minority in parliament. A quarter of the seats are reserved for the military and a large majority of the others are held by the military-backed ruling party.

But observers say their presence in parliament marks a key step in Burma's moves toward democracy.