US Waives Visa Ban for Burma Official Visits

By Matthew Pennington 30 August 2012

WASHINGTON DC—The Obama administration took another step Wednesday in unraveling tough US sanctions against Burma by waiving a visa ban to promote engagement with its reformist government.

The White House announced the step ahead of a visit next month to New York by President Thein Sein to the UN General Assembly.

Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said it is not a blanket lifting of the ban, and the US will still screen Burmese officials for evidence of complicity in gross human rights abuses.

President Barack Obama delegated authority to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to waive the ban for “certain individuals.” Under 2008 legislation, the ban covers officials of the former ruling junta, the military and those who lend it financial support. Immediate family members of such individuals are also banned.

Hayden said that by engaging Thein Sein and select Burmese ministers and deputy ministers, “we can build trust, create opportunities to press for further reform, and give key reformers a better understanding of democracy and US policy.”

In recent months, the US has restored full diplomatic relations and suspended investment sanctions to reward the country also known as Burma for shifting from five decades of authoritarian rule. It has already allowed some US visits by officials.

The US, however, has left in place an import ban and remains concerned over political prisoners, ethnic conflict, and Burma’s ties with North Korea.

Thein Sein’s upcoming visit to the US will coincide with one by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who will meet administration and congressional leaders and receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the legislature’s highest civilian honor.

In Burma’s latest effort to ease state control, it announced Tuesday that it is cutting about a third of the names from a blacklist that has restricted more than 6,000 people—both foreigners and Burmese—from traveling to and from the country.

But the US Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based activist group, complained on Wednesday that the Burmese authorities have yet to grant passports to 15 veteran student activist leaders and many former political prisoners.

“Their application for passports is delayed while many government officials, ruling party members, and cronies are freely traveling all over the world including the U. and Europe,” said the group’s executive director Aung Din.