Suu Kyi transparency call after US eases sanctions

AFP , Thursday 12 Jul 2012

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes a US decision to ease sanctions as Washington gave the green light for firms to invest in the country

Myanmar Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, attends a regular session of the parliament at Myanmar's Lower House in Naypyitaw in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Aung San Suu Kyi's party welcomed a US decision to ease Myanmar sanctions Thursday, but the opposition leader demanded more "transparency" as foreign firms hungrily eye the country's energy sector.

Washington on Wednesday gave the green light for firms to invest in Myanmar, including in oil and gas, in its greatest loosening of sanctions to reward reforms in the former pariah state after 50 years of military rule.

The US decision was swiftly followed by the announcement of top-level talks with Myanmar this week.

Under the new rules US companies will have the right to enter into business with state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), but must notify the State Department within 60 days.

Suu Kyi described the US move as "nothing significant" and repeated calls for the international community to press MOGE -- which was closely linked to the former junta government -- for increased transparency.

She told AFP that that she believed the body should sign up to International Monetary Fund codes of conduct.

Her National League for Democracy said the US decision was not at odds with the party's view that lifting tough Western sanctions should be considered if it would help regenerate the country's moribund economy.

International firms are clamouring for a foothold in resource-rich Myanmar as the West begins to lift economic and financial sanctions on the nation, left impoverished by decades of mismanagement and isolation under army rule.

The announcement will soothe fears by American businesses that they will lose out to European and Asian competitors that already enjoy access to the potentially lucrative economy.

It also signals Washington's desire to bolster Myanmar's President Thein Sein, a former junta general who has surprised the West with a series of dramatic changes since taking power last year.

"President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms," President Barack Obama said in a statement Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Thein Sein on Friday in Cambodia's Siem Reap on the sidelines of the largest ever gathering of American businesses in Asia.

"We are putting in place protections to ensure that our renewed investment advances, rather than undermines, continued reforms," Clinton told counterparts from across Asia on Thursday.

All US companies that invest more than $500,000 in Myanmar will be required to file reports to the State Department each year that show their consideration for human rights, workers' rights and the environment.

Human Rights Watch slammed the decision, saying that the United States appeared to have "caved to industry pressure and undercut Aung San Suu Kyi" because it did not insist on reforms in governance and human rights.

Obama on Wednesday said concerns remained about the role of the military, adding that the United States would continue to ban investment in companies owned by the defence ministry or armed groups.

Aung Lynn, director general for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at Myanmar foreign ministry, told AFP that the US move was welcome but urged "further action", echoing Thein Sein's call for sanctions to be lifted.

The Myanmar leader, who has embarked on a "second wave" of reforms to tackle the economy, told the Financial Times that there would be "maximum transparency" in extractive industries -- long the target of rights campaigners concerned over abuses and cronyism.

Myanmar's regional neighbours, meeting at a forum in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, on Thursday called for all international embargoes against the country to be lifted.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa hailed the US announcement as "fantastic news" and a sign that "we are all on the right track", while Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said it would be better "if they can ease all the sanctions".

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