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US sanctions on two top Myanmar leaders lifted
Publication Date : 21-09-2012
The United States lifted sanctions on two of Myanmar's top leaders as lawmakers gathered for an emotional tribute to visiting Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The move to end the sanctions against Myanmar President Thein Sein and parliamentary Speaker Thura Shwe Mann came after Suu Kyi voiced support for easing remaining sanctions crippling her impoverished country.
On Wednesday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers set aside election season rivalry for an afternoon to gather in the stately Rotunda of the US Capitol building to award Ms Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian honour, in recognition of her peaceful struggle for democratic change.
The US Treasury removed the two top Myanmar leaders from its "Specially Designated Nationals" list, for those thought to have links to crimes such as terrorism and drugs. Their assets are blocked, and US companies and individuals are generally prohibited from dealing with them.
Some sanctions against the country remain, but the move smooths the way for President Thein Sein's first official visit to the US next week. The chief architect of Myanmar's ongoing political reforms, he is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York and meet senior US officials.
US policy towards Myanmar has offered a rare example of bipartisan consensus in a bitterly divided Congress. Following signs of a political opening in military- ruled Myanmar in late 2010, lawmakers across the aisle supported cautious re-engagement with the country's new civilian leadership.
In speeches feting Suu Kyi, Republicans and Democrats who played a role in pushing for democratic change in Myanmar traded accolades. Most notably, Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid praised Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell as a "longstanding advocate" who helped to draft legislation for economic sanctions that pushed Myanmar's military regime towards reform.
"I am pleased where Burma (Myanmar's old name) policy is concerned, there has been no split between Democrats and Republicans," said Reid.
Many also expressed wonder at the dramatic changes that resulted not only in Suu Kyi's freedom, but her election to Myanmar's Parliament in May. "It is almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centrepiece of our democracy, as an elected member of Parliament," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
As Suu Kyi accepted the medal that was awarded to her in 2008 while she was under a 15-year house arrest for opposing Myanmar's military junta, she acknowledged the support she received from US lawmakers during her imprisonment.
"This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a House undivided, a House joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land," said Suu Kyi, who is on a 17-day multi-city visit to the US. Past recipients of the medal include the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.
In an attempt not to let her personal celebrity overshadow the reformers in Myanmar's government, she took pains in her short acceptance speech to acknowledge Aung Min, Minister in the President's Office, whom she had invited to attend the event.
Aung Min is overseeing ceasefire negotiations with Myanmar's ethnic militant groups.
Suu Kyi met privately with fellow Nobel laureate, President Barack Obama, at the White House after the ceremony. In their meeting, he expressed admiration for her "courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years".