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U.S. senators look to Suu Kyi for lifting sanctions policy

(Mizzima) – Two influential U.S. senators said lifting economic sanctions could depend on the views of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, as they prepared to arrive in Rangoon on Sunday.

US senators John McCain, right, answers questions from the media next to Joseph Lieberman at the American Center in Rangoon on Sunday, January 22, 2012. Photo: AFPSenators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain said Suu Kyi’s views and the fairness of the April Burmese by-election could begin a process of easing of the sanctions, as early as April.

McCain, speaking to reporters in Bangkok on Saturday, said he was “very encouraged” by recent events in Burma including the amnesty last week, which saw about 300 political prisoners released, according to some sources. Myanmar's government has also implement many reforms during the past year.

“There is no doubt in my mind; [I am] absolutely certain that if this is a free and fair election, there will be no problem coordinating with every other country in the world to bring the sanctions to a close,” McCain said. “I have to say that I am still a bit skeptical, not a lot, a bit skeptical, but I will certainly try to keep an open mind as we go through this process.”

The senators will hold talks with  Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Suu Kyi starting Monday.

Both senators said the ultimate decision over when to lift sanctions would rely heavily on advice from dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who will seek a seat in Parliament in the April 1 vote.

“I wouldn’t say we’re giving her a total veto,” Sen. Lieberman said. “But she has the trust of the U.S., he said, and her views over when to end sanctions would heavily influence U.S. policy.”

“My personal view is that we should not lift any sanctions before April," and possibly not even then if enough progress isn’t made,” he said. “We should all applaud what is happening in Myanmar but there are many times in history where we learned things aren't what we thought they were. Let's not rush into judgments we may regret later on.”

McCain said he didn’t really understand why the country’s leaders were moving so quickly to back reforms. The U.S., the European Union and other Western nations have imposed numerous sanctions against the country’s leadership, blocking most U.S. companies from doing business and freezing the assets of many individuals close to the former military regime.

He said that holding free and fair parliamentary by-elections on April 1 is a key requirement, and he would ask Burmese authorities to allow election monitors to oversee the voting, which is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats that were vacated over the past year.

“If those elections are free and fair, I don't see any way in which we can’t reward” the government, he said. However, there were other requirement, he said, including freedom of the press, freedom of movement around the country for all citizens, and an end to forced labor and persecution of ethnic minorities.

“I’d love to see a situation where they hold free and fair elections and we lift sanctions,” McCain said. But “I’m not sure that’s going to be the case.”

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