British prime minister David Cameron indicated on Thursday he is likely to push for sanctions against Myanmar to be eased quickly after he makes a landmark visit to the long-isolated state this week.
Cameron’s visit is scheduled for Friday and it will be the first by a major Western leader in 50 years.
It comes amid increasing calls for the easing of sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, as the country long-dominated by the military enacts democratic reforms.
“If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that. But first I want to and see for myself how things are going,” Cameron told the BBC when asked about the sanctions.
Myanmar has been the target of Western sanctions for years due to human rights abuses by the military rulers, who came to power in a 1962 coup.
The generals ceded power a year ago to a quasi-civilian government following a November 2010 election marred by opposition complaints of rigging and won by a party set up by the military.
But the new government has released hundreds of political prisoners and introduced a wave off reforms including loosening media controls, allowing trade unions and protests, talks with ethnic minority rebels and sweeping economic changes.
Big business and foreign countries are jostling for commercial opportunities and influence in resource-rich Myanmar, and a formal decision on whether to ease European trade bans is expected on April 23.
“In a world where there are many dark and depressing chapters of history being written there is a potential chapter of light. Of course we should be sceptical, of course we should be questioning,” Cameron said.
“That is why I want to visit Burma for myself, I want to hear and see for myself what is happening,” he said.
“But I think just as Britain played a leading role in Europe in placing tough sanctions on that regime, so we should be the ones if we are satisfied change is taking place, we should be the ones not being backwards in our response.”