Myanmar's ethnic groups unimpressed as US lifts sanctions

Move will derestrict country's jade industry, which is a 'treasure chest' for the military
Myanmar's ethnic groups unimpressed as US lifts sanctions

The then Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama to her home in Yangon on Nov. 19 2012. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Wikimedia Commons)

News of a promise by the United States to end long-standing sanctions imposed on Myanmar didn't impress Lu Ra, an ethnic Kachin from the impoverished country's north.

Such a move she believes would only benefit military-linked businesses and cronies instead of ordinary people.

Lu Ra expressed little faith in the announcement, which was made when Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Sept. 14.

"I actually see it doing more harm against the people especially those from ethnic regions," said Lu Ra who is Baptist.

After meeting with Suu Kyi, the American president declared that removing U.S. sanctions — in place since 1989 — was the right thing to do.

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"[It would] ensure that the people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business and a new government," Obama said, adding that "a lot of work remains to be done but it's on the right track."

Suu Kyi agreed saying: "The time has now come to remove all the sanctions that hurt us economically because our country is in a position to open up to those who are interested in taking part in our economic enterprises."

The U.S. lags far behind China, Thailand, the United Kingdom and South Korea who are Myanmar's top four foreign investors.



See this video above from The White House of Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi with U.S. President Barack Obama talking with the press on Sept. 14.


But the dropping of sanctions are not a priority for ethnic groups in conflict with the government, said Lu Ra who was displaced by the Chinese-led Myitsone Dam project in April 2011.

Ethnic civil wars in Myanmar's resource-rich regions have occurred since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. There are four separate conflicts currently being waged in the Southeast Asian nation.

The military has currently stepped up its offensive near the headquarters of Kachin Independence Army.

The end of hostilities is what is most needed, said Lu Ra.

"For us peace is much more important than ending U.S. sanctions. How could we benefit from any business opportunities if we are in a conflict-torn region?" she asked.

While in Washington, Suu Kyi stressed that economic development was essential in bringing peace to the country.

"Unity also needs prosperity because people, when they have to fight over limited resources, forget that standing together is important," Suu Kyi said.

Lu Ra said ethnic people would welcome investment by the U.S. and other countries if it benefited the "livelihood of the people" instead of "exploiting natural resources."

Lway Poe Ngeal, general secretary of the Ta'ang Women's Organization, an activist group working in northern Shan State, believed that it is a premature for the U.S. to end its sanctions because Myanmar's military are still fighting ethnic groups especially in Kachin and Shan states.

"Despite the new civilian-led government, human rights violations continue to be committed by the military," Lway Poe Ngeal, ethnic Ta'ang, told

Khin Zaw Win, director of the Yangon-based capacity-building Tampadipa Institute said that there are other downsides in the dropping of sanctions.

"Rights groups are concerned that the U.S. has now lost leverage over the military to push for further reforms," Khin Zaw Win told


'Right time and right decision'

Khin Mg Myint, an upper house lawmaker for the ruling National League for Democracy party in Hpakant constituency, Kachin State, said the dropping of sanctions by the U.S. was the right decision at the right time.

"It's time for nation-building and economic development so we all need to collaborate together — even the cronies — for the development of the country," Khin Mg Myint told

Among the bans lifted is the trade embargo on jade and rubies from the country.

Khin Mg Myint, who is also a member of Upper House's Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee, said that the sanction rollback would be good for jade mining companies.

"This will enable more job opportunities for local people," said Khin Mg Myint who added that parliament is now trying to amend a law to prevent monopolizing of the jade-mining industry.

But local people and rights groups fear that military-linked tycoons in the region will be the main beneficiaries in the dropping of sanctions.

Christian Kai Ra, a Catholic and ethnic Kachin from Hpakant township had little faith in the announcement bettering the lives of local people. 

"Aung San Suu Kyi's government can't tackle the current problems such as environmental degradation and landslides and issues such as rule of law and drug addictions so we are not sure how the dropping of sanctions will benefit people at the grassroots level," Kai Ra who is also from Kachin Development Foundation- local civil society group, told

London-based NGO Global Witness said on Sept.16 that Myanmar's jade mining industry is still used as a "treasure chest" for the military.

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