US told of ‘tangible’ Burma progress

A delegation of US foreign policy advisors has been told by Burma’s main political opposition party that tangible signs of change are underway in the country.

The team, from the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke with members of five different parties, including the National Democratic Force (NDF), which split from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) last year to compete in the 2010 elections.

“They asked us whether if we see any improvements in the country and we answered that we do see some tangible improvements in the economic sectors and that there is the potential to enact standardised economic laws in near future,” said Khin Maung Swe, who heads the party.

The government has also lifted a number trading restrictions that have begun to drag on the country’s export sector, particularly given the shock strengthening of the kyat that has triggered alarm across Burma’s economy.

“[This] shows that the economic reforms urged by Western countries are starting and so the US should reconsider its economic sanctions on Burma,” Khin Maung Swe said.

Over time the NDF has increasingly distanced itself from Suu Kyi’s party, whose policies and hardline stance it quietly feels are archaic and ineffective. Supporters of the NLD on the other hand believe the NDF is playing into the hands of the government, which many see as a civilian extension of the former junta.

Both Suu Kyi and the Obama administration in Washington say that sanctions will remain on Burma until state-sanctioned human rights abuses end and political prisoners are freed.

Burma’s economy is currently undergoing something of a revamp, with the government preparing to do away with foreign exchange certificates (FEC) and potentially opening the door to IMF assistance.

It has also sought to soften its reputation as society where independent media is criminalised, whilst upping dialogue with Suu Kyi, who recently met for the second time with Labour Minister Aung Kyi.

The US has repeatedly said however that action must match the rhetoric of the new government, which since coming to power in March has enacted a series of reforms intended to superficially distance itself from the former junta.

Also at the meeting yesterday were representatives of the Democratic Party Myanmar and the National Unity Party, which has historically been seen as government-aligned.

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee is headed by former US presidential candidate John Kerry.

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