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Senior U.S. diplomat sees change afoot in Myanmar

BANGKOK >> A senior U.S. diplomat said Monday that Washington will respond with reciprocal measures to moves by Myanmar’s military-backed government to become freer and more democratic.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell said elections that brought a civilian government to power in March were flawed and the United States still has many concerns about issues in Myanmar, “but it is also undeniably the case that there are dramatic developments under way.”

Campbell, speaking at a lecture in the Thai capital, Bangkok, cited a “very consequential dialogue” between new President Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a major positive development. In public speeches Thein Sein has also appeared conciliatory about easing limits on freedom of speech and holding talks with ethnic rebels.

“We have stated clearly that we are prepared for a new chapter in our relations,” Campbell said. “I think it would be fair to say that we will match their steps with comparable steps and we are looking forward in the course of the next several weeks to continuing a dialogue that has really stepped up in recent months.”

The United States has long imposed political and economic sanctions on Myanmar because of its former military junta’s failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government and its poor human rights record.

The U.S. could ease restrictions on financial transactions and travel by top Myanmar officials, and also unblock aid by some multilateral agencies as well as resume its own assistance.

Campbell said areas where Washington hopes for more progress include freedom for political prisoners, talks with ethnic minorities who have been battling for greater autonomy, and an end to reported military assistance from North Korea that violates U.N. nonproliferation resolutions.

“It would be fair to say that compared to what we’ve experienced in the past, there are clearly changes afoot, but we are at the early stages of that process and we are looking to see whether they will be sustained, whether they will continue and whether they will grow,” Campbell said.

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