Friday, August 18, 2017

Obama renews authority to maintain sanctions

US President Barack Obama has renewed his authority to maintain sanctions on Myanmar for another year, as international alarm increases over the Rohingya-Bengali migrant crisis, according to US media.

US President Barack Obama speaks in Yangon last year. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar TimesUS President Barack Obama speaks in Yangon last year. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

Media reported that the White House notified Congress of the renewal on May 15 – five days before the existing authority was due to finish. Reportedly, the decision was made as concerns remain over conflict and humans rights abuses, particularly in ethnic minority areas and Rakhine State.

When Mr Obama extended sanctions against Myanmar through the National Emergencies Act last year, he cited ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic areas, as well as the continued role of the military in the country’s political and economic activities, as reasons for the decision.

His decision to renew sanctions comes at a time when rights group estimate some 8000 impoverished Rohingya – generally called Bengalis in Myanmar – and also people from Bangladesh, are adrift at sea, abandoned by those who smuggled them through international waters – and abandoned by the neighbouring nations that insist Myanmar bears responsibility for a problem it has long described as a domestic issue.

While many of those so far rescued say they are from Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw denies it bears any responsibility. President’s Office director U Zaw Htay previously said those who arrived in Indonesia and Malaysia “might not be from Myanmar”.

The US remains deeply concerned about the urgent situation faced by the migrants, and has discussed the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter for them with the Thai secretary of state, said press officer at the US Department of State Jeff Rathke during his daily press briefing on May 15.

“We continue to stress that we see a need for Burma to fulfill its previous commitments to improve the living conditions of everybody affected in Rakhine State, and we press the Burmese government as well to address migrant smuggling and human trafficking of Rohingya, and we think that’s extremely important,” he said.

The US government plans to send a senior delegation to the regional conference hosted by Thailand in Bangkok on May 29, which will focus on illegal migration in the region, he said.

It is unclear whether representatives from Nay Pyi Taw will also attend.

In 2012, Mr Obama’s government began to ease long-standing sanctions on business with Myanmar.

Last month, U Win Aung and his two companies, Dagon International Ltd and Dagon Timber Ltd, became the first to be taken off the Specially Designated Nationals list, prompting speculation that other blacklisted individuals and companies would also be removed.