Southeast Asian leaders: Lift Burma sanctions

Burma's President Thein Sein attends the conclusion of the 20th ASEAN Summit on April 4, 2012. AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong

(AP) PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Southeast Asian leaders called Wednesday for Western countries, including the European Union, to lift punitive sanctions imposed on Burma now that the once-pariah nation has embraced democratic reforms.

The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations made the call after concluding an annual summit in the Cambodian capital. Burma, also known as Myanmar, was represented at the gathering by President Thein Sein, who received a flurry of praise for the recent reforms in his poor Southeast Asian nation, most recently Sunday's by-elections won by pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the EU, which punished formerly military-ruled Burma for massive human rights violations.

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During the two-day summit, Thein Sein reported to the other leaders that the by-elections saw a huge turnout of voters and were held peacefully, drawing praise from his counterparts, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

Until recently, Burma was the black sheep of ASEAN, with other member countries repeatedly reprimanding it for its failure to move forward on a promised roadmap to democracy, including the freeing of Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.

"This is a tremendous change in the dynamics nowadays," Natalegawa said. "Normally the Myanmar issue is discussed as a problem but now it's seen as very much different."

"Certainly there was no condemnation; there were lots of commendations," he said.

Natalegawa said ASEAN foreign ministers would relay their appeal for the sanctions' lifting when they meet their EU counterparts in the near future.

The weekend vote in Burma will fill just 45 vacant seats in the country's 664-seat Parliament but took on historic significance because of Suu Kyi's presence. After two decades as a political prisoner, Suu Kyi won a victory that marked a turn in her political career and for the country as it emerges from a half-century of military rule.

The Election Commission confirmed late Tuesday that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy took 43 seats available, losing only in distant Shan state to an ethnic Shan party candidate. In one constituency, the NLD candidate was disqualified before the polls and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party won.

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