AFP- The United States eased its economic sanctions on Myanmar on Wednesday while maintaining a ban on ties with its military, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday.
In a statement issued after the appointment of the first US ambassador to Burma in two decades, Obama said Myanmar, which was until recently dominated by a notorious military regime, is making progress towards democracy.
"Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow US companies to responsibly do business in Burma," Obama said.
"President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms."
The US leader said he remains concerned about the Myanmar army's role in the economy, and warned that sanctions would continue to apply to military-owned firms, human rights abusers and those that trade with North Korea.
"This order is a clear message to Burmese government and military officials: those individuals who continue to engage in abusive, corrupt, or destabilizing behavior going forward will not reap the rewards of reform," he said.
But he cited the role of Myanmar leader President Thein Sein and Nobel-prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in moving the country along the path to full democracy.
Earlier, the new US ambassador to Myanmar, veteran Asian policymaker Derek Mitchell took up his post, met Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw.
He arrived days after Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy struggle saw her locked up for 15 of the last 23 years, made her debut in parliament, lending legitimacy to a body that remains dominated by the army and its allies.
Washington withdrew its ambassador to Myanmar after a crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and elections won by Suu Kyi's party in 1990 that were never recognized by the junta.
But a recent slew of positive changes from Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government, which took power last year, have surprised the West and driven hopes of a democratic future for the country.
Until Wednesday's order, US law required the president to restrict imports from Myanmar and banned US investment and financial services to the country.
American businesses were pushing for a relaxation of punitive measures against the impoverished but resource-rich country, which has seen a stampede of high-profile foreign visitors in recent weeks seeking market access.
Myanmar's parliament is currently considering a new investment law and a series of other measures aimed at liberalizing the economy, which was left in tatters by decades of mismanagement, cronyism and isolation under the junta.
Human rights groups have voiced concerns that the oil and gas industry has fueled abuses like forced labor in the country.