Hamish McDonald June 08, 2012
"We have moved beyond coercion, and coercive messages no longer contribute to the reform process" ... Foreign Minister Bob Carr, pictured here with Aung San Suu Kyi at a press conference in Myanmar, is moving forward. Photo: AP
AUSTRALIA is lifting its remaining travel and financial sanctions against Burmese military figures involved in past human rights abuses.
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, announced the move yesterday immediately after a meeting Burma's President, Thein Sein, in the capital city built by his military predecessor.
''We have moved beyond coercion, and coercive measures no longer contribute to the reform process,'' Senator Carr said, citing advice from his department and the ambassador to Burma, Bronte Moules.
Senator Carr gave notice of the decision in meetings on Wednesday with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, other democracy activists and civil society groups.
He said he received a ''very relaxed response'' and the decision was ''easily accommodated'' with Ms Suu Kyi's advice that sanctions be suspended, rather than terminated.
''They [the Burmese government] understand that if there were to be any serious backsliding or a reversal of reform, that we're in a position, with one signature, to reimpose them,'' he said.
In April Australia cut the number of names on its list of individuals for ''targeted sanctions'' from 392 to 126 after Ms Suu Kyi and 42 other National League for Democracy candidates were elected to parliament in byelections rated free and fair.
About a quarter of the 126 figures were army officers involved in the suppression of the Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks in 2007. Senator Carr said ordinary immigration rules still allowed people with ''repellent'' records on human rights to be denied a visa.
Thein Sein had welcomed Australia's move, Senator Carr said, saying that the European Union policy of reviewing sanctions year by year added an element of political risk to investment decisions.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has invited the President and Ms Suu Kyi to visit Australia.
Pushing for a wider policy of engagement to encourage reforms, Senator Carr also announced a stepping up of aid programs in Burma.
The aid budget for Burma will double from $48.8 million this financial year to more than $100 million by 2015. Education and infant health are targets, with only half the children in Burma now completing primary school, large numbers dying before the age of five, and about 10 per cent of infants severely malnourished.
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