U.S. eases Myanmar sanctions to permit NGO projects

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:34pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday relaxed sanctions on Myanmar to permit certain humanitarian, religious and educational activities in the country as it moves ahead with democratic reforms after decades of military rule.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a notice saying that, subject to certain limitations, sanctions would be eased to allow certain not-for-profit development projects, democracy building and good governance initiatives, and projects for education, religious, sport and non-commercial development in the country, formerly known as Burma.

"We are taking this step today to support a broader range of not-for-profit activity in Burma by private U.S. organizations and individuals to promote increased cooperation between the Burmese and the American people," a senior Treasury Department official said.

The Obama administration announced this month that it planned to gradually ease certain sanctions on Myanmar, steps that could eventually see bans lifted on U.S. companies investing in or offering financial services to the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

The move to ease sanctions follows a dramatic series of reforms in Myanmar, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in a parliamentary by-election this month that yielded a landslide victory for her party.

The Treasury's announcement on Tuesday marked the first of a planned series of modest steps to begin unravelling the complex web of U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country's isolation for decades.

The United States has also said it will name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development there and support a regular U.N. Development Program operation in the country.

Future steps to ease sanctions could eventually see U.S. investment in Myanmar's agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking sectors, U.S. officials say.

But U.S. officials say they want to see clear evidence of further reforms, including the release of all political prisoners, concrete steps toward national reconciliation, especially with ethnic groups that say they have long been oppressed by the central government, and an end to any military ties to North Korea.

(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Beech)

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