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Wednesday, Oct 22nd

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Canada removes most sanctions on Burma

Canada has joined other western nations and the E.U. in lifting sanctions against Burma, saying the country has “changed course in a major way.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said effectively immediately, “Prohibitions on imports, exports and investment have for the most part been removed,” as well as individual sanctions.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and Aung San Suu Kyi after a meeting at her home in Rangoon on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Photo: Mizzima

However, a Canadian arms embargo against the country was left intact.

Baird noted a series of positive steps taken by the government over the past year, including the release of some political prisoners, and a by-election “seemingly free of intimidation or violence.”

 He said he hoped the reforms would continue and encouraged people “sitting on the fence” in Burma to join the democratic reform movement.

“We're very hopeful and optimistic, at the same time we're not naive, we'll be watching, very, very closely,” he said.

Canadian sanctions were imposed on Burma beginning in 1988 “to try to encourage the government to change course, and they've changed course in a major way,” Baird said.

The United States, European Union and Australia all had moved to ease their own sanctions against Burma on Monday.

But some questioned Tuesday whether Canada had acted too soon.

In an article on the Canada.com website, the Postmedianews quoted Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Burma, an Ottawa-based organization, who said a political battle over Burma’s controversial Constitution is brewing, citing Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition members’ refusal to take their seats in the country's national legislature on Monday, demanding changes to an oath of office.

"Therefore, the timing is wrong for Canada to ease sanctions at this point in time, and should have waited a bit to see a clear picture of what would unfold in the coming weeks and months,” Htoo was quoted as saying.

Burma’s ambassador to Canada, Kyaw Tin, welcomed the announcement, saying his country's move toward democracy is genuine.

“Our government is making significant democratic changes which is surprising everyone. So the reform process needs to be encouraged,” he said.

Baird noted that trade between Canada and Burma has been essentially non-existent for decades. Tin said it doesn’t matter, because Canadian firms were interested in investment opportunities.

“They see that there are a lot of oil and gas pipeline opportunities over there,” Tin said of the energy firms. “Some gold mining companies are also looking for the opportunities.”