- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Activists in Myanmar say it is still too early to lift Western sanctions on their country, despite an ongoing thaw in the relationship between the U.S. and Myanmar.

U.S. and European sanctions are a “very good instrument to make change in our country,” said Zarganar, a popular comedian and government critic who was released in a prisoner amnesty in October. “[The sanctions] have changed our government’s minds.”

Bauk Gyar, an ethnic Kachin activist and member of the National Democratic Force, said Myanmar’s ethnic minorities will not benefit if sanctions are lifted under the present conditions.

“Lifting sanctions now is too early,” she said during a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington on Thursday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month announced that the U.S. and Myanmar will start exchanging ambassadors, the first time since 1990. The Obama administration, however, stopped short of lifting the sanctions.

Myanmar’s military-backed, civilian-led government has tried to improve relations with the U.S. by acceding to key Western demands, including an amnesty for hundreds of prisoners of conscience and signing cease-fires with ethnic rebels.

It also has announced plans to hold elections on April 1 in which the country’s largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and its leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will be allowed to participate.

The National League for Democracy won the 1990 election, the last it was allowed to take part in, by a landslide. But the military prevented it from ruling.

The party was barred by the military from participating in November 2010 elections, which the U.S. declared a sham.