UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar’s president told the U.N. General Assembly Thursday that no one can reverse the democratic reforms that have helped his nation shed its international pariah status over the past 18 months.
The Southeast Asian country is making progress toward democratic reform, but the task has not been easy, he said.
“In the ongoing reform process, we are facing challenges as well as opportunities,” he added.
The Obama administration intends to reward Myanmar by lifting a U.S. ban on imports, one of the last major sanctions on the nation. It already has mostly waived an investment ban and financial restrictions, paving the way for U.S. businesses to invest in Myanmar.
Congress in August extended some sanctions on Myanmar by a year, but gave Mr. Obama the authority to waive the import sanctions.
U.S. relations with Myanmar have thawed over the past year, as the military-backed government has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized opposition political parties, eased restrictions on the press and enacted laws to strengthen workers’ rights.
On a visit to the U.S. this month, Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, voiced support for lifting sanctions on her country. Her visit coincides with Thein Sein’s trip to New York.
U.S. officials cited Mrs. Suu Kyi’s position, in part, to justify the decision to lift the import sanctions.
“I think both [Mrs. Suu Kyi] and President Thein Sein have made it clear, time for using sanctions to modify political behavior, given the political transformation in Burma, has gone past,” a senior State Department official told reporters in a background briefing.
The Treasury earlier this month lifted sanctions on Thein Sein and parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann.
Human rights activists say lifting any more sanctions would deprive the U.S. of a tool to keep the military-backed government committed to reforms.
Thein Sein told the U.N. session that he places a high priority on ending wars with ethnic rebels in his country. Myanmar has struck cease-fires with 10 groups, but a war with Karen rebels in the northern Kachin state still rages.