By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the recent easing of U.S. sanctions and the need to protect against the country's backsliding on reforms, the State Department said Monday.
The U.S. had announced on Friday it was suspending a ban on American investment and the export of financial services to the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration's most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.
Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and they agreed Myanmar's important progress of the past several months remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions' authorities in place as an insurance policy, according to a department statement.
They talked about the need for specific steps to promote responsible, transparent investment and to empower reformers and target abusers, the statement said. They also discussed the urgent need for progress in resolving Myanmar's long-running ethnic conflicts, and ending human rights abuses in the ethnic areas.
The statement said Clinton and Suu Kyi "agreed to remain in close touch."
Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate and Myanmar's most popular politician, has cautiously endorsed the European Union's suspension of economic sanctions and similar steps taken by the U.S. in recognition of the election of her and dozens of her party members to parliament in April.
Rights groups and some Myanmar activists, however, voiced concern over fierce violence in the country's northern Kachin State and continued detention of hundreds of political prisoners despite the releases of many others in recent months. Activists are worried it will be difficult to enforce sanctions again once they are suspended.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.