Southeast Asian leaders called Wednesday for Western countries, including the European Union, to lift punitive sanctions imposed on Myanmar now that the once-pariah nation has embraced democratic reforms.
The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations made the call after concluding an annual summit in the Cambodian capital. Myanmar was represented at the gathering by President Thein Sein who received a flurry of praise for Sunday’s by-elections won by pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the EU, which punished formerly military-ruled Myanmar for massive human rights violations.
During the two-day summit, Thein Sein reported to the other leaders that the by-elections saw a huge turnout of voters and were held peacefully, drawing praise from his counterparts .
Until recently, Myanmar was the black sheep of Asean, with other member countries repeatedly reprimanding it for its failure to move forward on a promised roadmap to democracy, including the freeing of Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.
“This is a tremendous change in the dynamics nowadays,” Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said. “Normally the Myanmar issue is discussed as a problem but now it’s seen as very different.”
“Certainly there was no condemnation; there were lots of commendations,” he said.
Natalegawa said Asean foreign ministers would relay their appeal for the sanctions’ lifting when they meet their EU counterparts in the near future.
The Election Commission confirmed on Tuesday that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took 43 seats available, losing only in distant Shan state to an ethnic Shan party candidate. In one constituency, the NLD candidate was disqualified before the polls.