ASEAN calls for end to Myanmar sanctions

PHNOM PENH - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Wednesday called for Western nations to lift sanctions against Myanmar following much-lauded signs of change in the army-dominated nation.

Strict sanctions on Myanmar, enforced notably by the United States and the European Union in response to human rights abuses and for failing to free all political prisoners, have long left the country isolated.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, whose country has just taken over the rotating chairmanship of the 10-nation regional bloc, said democratic reform in Myanmar was moving forward.

"Myanmar's foreign minister has requested ASEAN to call for the lifting of economic sanctions against Myanmar," he told reporters after the bloc's foreign ministers held a two-day retreat in the northwestern temple town of Siem Reap.

"And I would like to inform you that ASEAN as a whole agrees on the issue," he added.

The Singapore foreign ministry said "the ministers noted the positive developments in Myanmar and expressed their support for the lifting of sanctions".

ASEAN made a similar call for sanctions to be removed a year ago at a retreat in Indonesia.

Since then Myanmar's new nominally-civilian government has surprised observers by opening dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, freezing work on an unpopular mega-dam and releasing some dissidents.

Myanmar was rewarded in November for its conciliatory gestures with the ASEAN chair in 2014, despite rights groups saying the move was premature.

The country gave up the chance to head ASEAN five years ago due to international pressure for democratic reforms.

ASEAN also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

As chair of ASEAN, Myanmar would be required to speak on behalf of the bloc and host scores of meetings including the East Asia Summit, which includes the United States.