The US lifted sanctions on two of Myanmar’s top leaders as the Congress hailed Aung San Suu Kyi as a hero of democracy in a lavish ceremony unthinkable only months ago.
The move to end the sanctions on Myanmar President Thein Sein and parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann came Wednesday, just hours after Suu Kyi had called for US sanctions crippling her impoverished nation to be lifted.
She also met fellow Nobel Peace laureate President Barack Obama for the first time, after being presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in the imposing surroundings of the historical Rotunda on Capitol Hill.
The White House said Obama reaffirmed US support for political and economic reforms in Myanmar and full protection of human rights in order to shape “a more peaceful, free and prosperous future” for the country.
Myanmar was ruled by an iron-fisted junta for decades but, since taking office last year, a reformist government under former general Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and allowed Suu Kyi’s party into electoral politics.
“From the depths of my heart I thank you, the people of America... for keeping us in your hearts and minds during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach,” Suu Kyi said, as she was handed the award.
“We believe that we can go forward in unity and in peace,” the Nobel laureate said.
“There will be difficulties in the way ahead, but I’m confident that we shall be able to overcome all obstacles with the help and support of our friends.” The US treasury later dropped both Thein Sein and Shwe Mann from its list of ‘Specially Designated Nationals’, those individuals and companies sanctioned for links to terrorism, narcotics or other crimes.
The two men “have taken concrete steps to promote political reforms and human rights, and to move Burma away from repression and dictatorship toward democracy and freedom,” the treasury said.
They had been placed on the list in 2007 as the US stepped up pressure on the then-ruling military junta, in which Thein Sein served as first secretary and Shwe Mann was joint chief of staff of the armed forces.