Suu Kyi calls for further easing of Burma sanctions

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Media captionAung San Suu Kyi is in Washington at the start of an historic visit to the US

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is visiting the US, has said she supports further easing of sanctions against Burma's government.

She made the comments after talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mrs Clinton, for her part, warned Burma's military-backed government against "backsliding".

Western sanctions against Burma have already been loosened since the new government began enacting a series of political and social reforms.

In a speech at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, Aung San Suu Kyi said Burma had cleared the "first hurdle", adding that sanctions should be further eased as part of a partnership with the US.

"I do support the easing of sanctions, because I think that our people can start taking responsibility for their own destiny," she said.

"In the end, we have to build our own democracy."

'Carry reforms forward'

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest in 2010 and is now a member of parliament, arrived in the US on Monday for her first visit to the country in two decades.

Ms Suu Kyi was a longtime supporter of foreign sanctions.

Over the past year she has gradually softened her opposition to lifting them, says the BBC's Jonathan Head. Now she says they should no longer be relied on to maintain the momentum of reforms, the clearest statement yet by her that sanctions should be phased out.

It is a different emphasis from her comments three months ago, during her first overseas visit here in Thailand, where she warned against what she called "reckless optimism" in the world over developments in Burma, says our correspondent.

In July, US President Barack Obama announced that US companies will now be allowed to "responsibly do business in Burma".

Burmese President Thein Sein has urged Western countries to scrap all sanctions against his country.

He is also due in the US next week following his official trip to China.

Since 2010, Thein Sein's government has overseen a transition from authoritarian rule to a more inclusive system.

The EU, Australia and other countries have already eased sanctions against the country.

Mrs Clinton warned against the possibility of "backsliding" if the military-backed leadership did not introduce further reforms.

The secretary of state said Burma's government and opposition "need to continue the work together to unite the country, heal the wounds of the past and carry the reforms forward".

She also voiced concern about Burma's recent sectarian clashes and the country's alleged links to North Korea.

Ethnic conflict

It was the second meeting between the the Nobel laureate and Mrs Clinton, who visited Burma in December.

While in the US, Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to receive numerous awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour in the US, on Wednesday.

She will also meet Burmese groups in different parts of the US.

But she is likely to face questions over the deadly ethnic conflict in western Rakhine state earlier this year.

The violence, between Burma's majority Buddhists and minority Muslims, was sparked by the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman. Dozens of people died and thousands were displaced.

Rights groups have expressed concern over the fate of the Rohingyas, a mostly Muslim group at the centre of the unrest who Burma says are not Burmese citizens. They have often been denied asylum in neighbouring countries.

Aung San Suu Kyi has remained relatively quiet on the issue, although has called in parliament for laws to protect the rights of ethnic minorities.