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UK's Cameron calls for easing sanctions on Myanmar

British leader Cameron signals a key policy shift during historic visit to Myanmar.

Cameron myanmar april 2012Enlarge
British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) meets with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on April 13, 2012 in Yangon, Myanmar. Mr Cameron is ending his five day trade mission to the far east in Myanmar, the first British Prime Minister to visit the country since 1948. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in Myanmar today that "the time is right" to ease sanctions in response to political reforms there, a move that could prove economically transformative for the resource-rich nation after decades of isolation, reported Reuters

The British leader's historic visit to the country, the first by a Western leader in decades, comes little more than a week after US officials eased restrictions on the country in response to a landmark win by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party in recent elections. 

A civilian government backed by the military was set up in March 2011, ushering in key political reforms and leading to the release of hundreds of political prisoners, according to the BBC, two years after the nation held its first general elections in 20 years.

Sanctions were imposed on Myanmar in an effort to cripple the then-ruling military junta, which controlled the country for nearly 50 years, during which time it advanced a disastrous economic program that left millions destitute. 

More from GlobalPost: Myanmar election brings new hope and the same old worries

Critics of the sanctions say they have also added to the poverty faced by majority of the country's 60 million people, reported the BBC.

Speaking alongside Suu Kyi today at the villa where she spent 15 years under house arrest, Cameron made a nuanced call for easing economic restrictions there instead of lifting them completely, saying such a move "would allow us to put them back in place" should there be any backsliding on rights, reported Reuters

Suu Kyi praised the move as one that would "strengthen the hand of the reformers," while Cameron promised to push for changes at the upcoming European Union's sanctions review to be held in Brussels on April 23, said the BBC

He suggested lifting restrictions on mining and timber industries as well as freeing up financial assets held by some 500 people, but said the arms embargo would remain in place, according to the BBC

The British leader also told reporters that he had invited Suu Kyi to come and visit his nation this summer, an offer she said two years ago she would have had to decline due to fears of not being able to return to her native land. 

"Now I am able to say perhaps," she said, according to the BCC. "That is great progress." 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120413/uks-cameron-calls-easing-sanctions-myanmar