April 16, 2012 / 3:53 AM / 8 years ago

Australia further eases Myanmar sanctions, seeks trade

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia will further ease sanctions and move to normalize trade ties with Myanmar following its democratic by-elections, but sanctions will remain on military officials to pressure for further reforms, the government said on Monday.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr gestures during a joint news conference with Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and their countries' Defence Ministers at Parliament House in Canberra March 15, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Postles

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australia would lift financial restrictions and travel bans against 260 people in Myanmar, including President Thein Sein and civilian reformists within the government.

However, he said sanctions would remain for around 130 people including serving military figures, in order to keep pressure on the military rulers to carry out further reforms.

“We will continue to encourage the Burmese Government to continue down the path of reform, including by granting full political freedoms and reconciling with ethnic groups,” Carr said in a statement from London.

The move follows last week’s historic visit to Myanmar by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, where he met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The two leaders backed an easing of sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

Suu Kyi and Britain have long been the biggest advocates of sanctions, imposed over the past 23 years for human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military rulers. Critics argue they have kept the Southeast Asian country’s 60 million people in poverty.

The European Union will review its sanctions on Myanmar on April 23, with an expected easing of restrictions set to allow a flood of investment into a country rich with oil, gas and precious stones.

President Thein Sein, whom Cameron met on Friday, has stunned critics with reforms unthinkable a year ago, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, easing media censorship and holding peace talks with ethnic rebels.

Myanmar won independence largely due to the efforts of Aung San, Suu Kyi’s late father, but a 1962 coup then heralded 49 years of military rule.

That ended a year ago after the transfer to Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government stacked with former generals, a hegemony now threatened after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) took 43 of 45 seats in April 1 by-elections. A parliamentary election takes place in 2015.

Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Michael Perry

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