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Australia eases sanctions on Myanmar

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Australia's government has announced an easing of sanctions and moves to normalise trade ties with Myanmar following recent reforms by the country's civilian government.

But Bob Carr, Australia's foreign minister, said on Monday that sanctions would remain in place against about 130 military officials to keep up pressure for further reforms.

Carr said Myanmar President Thein Sein was among 260 civilian officials who would no longer be subject to financial restrictions and travel bans.

"That removes many of the civilians from the list, and that includes President Thein Sein and government ministers," he said.

"But senior serving military officers and people of human rights interest will stay subject to those Australian sanctions."

Speaking from London, where he was due to meet William Hague, his British counterpart, later on Monday, Carr said easing sanctions was recognition of "far-reaching political, economic and social reforms" being implemented in Myanmar after years of international isolation.

'Greater engagement'

"It is incumbent upon us now to support Burma in practical ways and seek greater engagement that will encourage these reforms to take root and sustain the conditions for further change to improve the lives of the Burmese people," said Carr, referring to the country by its former name.

The move follows last week's historic visit to Myanmar by David Cameron, the British prime minister, 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 the UK 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 natural resources.

Myanmar's military rulers ceded power to a quasi-civilian government, led by former general Sein, following a November 2010 election marred by opposition complaints of rigging, and won by a party set up by the military.

But since then Sein's government has released hundreds of political prisoners and introduced a wave off reforms including loosening media controls, allowing trade unions and protests, talks with ethnic minority rebels and sweeping economic changes.

Parliamentary by-elections earlier this month saw Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who spent years as a prisoner under military rule, elected to parliament as her National League for Democracy (NLD) took 43 out of 45 seats.


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