* US greenlights investment by energy, mining, banking firms
* State Department's Derek Mitchell nominated as ambassador
* Washington urges high standard of corporate responsibility
* Rights groups say US move overlooks brutal wars on
By Andrew Quinn and Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON, May 17 The United States on Thursday
suspended sanctions barring U.S. investment in Myanmar in
response to political reforms in the poor southeast Asian state,
drawing praise from some U.S. lawmakers but criticism from human
"Today we say to American business: invest in Burma and do
it responsibly," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
She appeared with Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung
Lwin, on his long-isolated nation's first official visit to
Washington in decades as ties between the two countries warm
Clinton said Washington would issue a general license to
permit U.S. investments across Myanmar's economy, and U.S.
energy, mining and financial service companies were all now free
to look for opportunities in the nation formerly known as Burma.
But Clinton stressed that the laws underpinning U.S.
sanctions on Myanmar would remain as Washington seeks to
maintain its leverage while pushing the reclusive country's
government further on democratic reforms.
"We are suspending sanctions. We believe that is the
appropriate step for us to take today," Clinton said.
"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
Elaborating on the policy shift, President Barack Obama said
Washington would work to "ensure that those who abuse human
rights, engage in corruption, interfere with the peace process,
or obstruct the reform process do not benefit from increased
engagement with the United States."
Clinton said the United States would maintain its arms
embargo on Myanmar and urged the country's new civilian-led
government to take further steps to exert its control over the
military, which ruled the country since a 1962 coup.
Thursday's announcement marked the latest step in a rapid
rapprochement between the United States and Myanmar, which has
seen a dramatic series of political reforms in the past year.
Myanmar's reformist, quasi-civilian government took office a
year ago, ending five decades of military rule, and has started
overhauling its economy, easing media censorship, legalizing
trade unions and protests, freeing political prisoners and
agreeing to ceasefires with a dozen ethnic rebel armies.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San
Suu Kyi has been elected to and taken a seat in parliament.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, Myanmar's biggest
opposition force, won a 1990 election by a landslide but the
country's military refused to cede power and for two decades
suppressed the party's activities, jailing many of its members.
In response to the reforms, United States has promised to
begin unwinding the complex web of U.S. sanctions that have
contributed to the country's isolation and driven it closer to
its powerful neighbor, China.
Clinton said Derek Mitchell, the State Department's
coordinator for Burma policy, would be nominated to return to
the country as U.S. ambassador and Maung Lwin said his
government had appointed its current permanent representative to
the United Nations to fill its ambassadorial slot in Washington.
Pro-democracy advocates have urged the United States to move
cautiously, saying sanctions are an important tool to maintain
pressure on Myanmar's government to follow through on pledges of
greater democratic openness for its 60 million people.
ACTIVISTS CRITICIZE MOVE
U.S. Campaign for Burma, a human rights advocacy group that
opposes wholesale lifting of sanctions until the government
makes deeper reforms, said Myanmar's army continued to wage a
brutal campaign against the Kachin ethnic minority in northern
Myanmar and the new U.S. policy would do little to stop it.
The "symbolic exclusion of investment with the military will
not prevent the military from continuing to attack and assault
ethnic villagers in the name of providing security for foreign
investment projects," the USCB said in a statement.
The military offensive in Kachin State had created about
100,000 refugees and this month, Myanmar Army soldiers had
committed gang rape against Kachin women and girls -- "one
egregious case among many that are ongoing," the group said.
The Kachin fighting, which erupted anew a year ago after a
16-year truce, drew a call from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon for an
end to attacks by all parties in Myanmar.
Bill Davis, Burma Project director of the group Physicians
for Human Rights, said Kachin and other ethnic minority groups
whose homelands hold Myanmar's natural resources told him in
interviews they are "still afraid of the government."
"If the people of Burma do not trust their government, the
U.S. administration should not either," he said.
A senior U.S. official said U.S. investments in Myanmar
would be subject to the highest standards of corporate
responsibility and that Myanmar's "bad actors" would remain
subject to sanctions on a list that would be regularly updated.
"We will hold folks accountable and look at various
mechanisms going forward for ensuring that there is oversight,
that there is transparency and ... accountability for the
activities of our companies," said the official.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator
John McCain, said in a statement Obama struck an "appropriate
balance between encouraging the process of reform now unfolding
in Burma, while maintaining sufficient leverage to continue
pressing the Burmese government for additional progress."
Another influential lawmaker on Myanmar policy, Democratic
Senator Jim Webb, however, said Obama should have done more.
"The president has wider powers with respect to economic
sanctions, and he should use them to lift all economic
sanctions," he said in a statement, noting that the European
Union had already lifted its sanctions.
(Reporting By Paul Eckert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)