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Originally published Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 12:14 AM

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Myanmar hails EU lifting of sanctions

Myanmar on Tuesday hailed a European Union decision lifting political and economic sanctions against the former pariah state, pledging to continue its reforms and march toward democracy.

The Associated Press

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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei —

Myanmar on Tuesday hailed a European Union decision lifting political and economic sanctions against the former pariah state, pledging to continue its reforms and march toward democracy.

Senior Myanmar diplomat Aung Lynn told reporters on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference in Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, that the international community can expect more reforms, especially in the socio-economic sectors.

"This is a very good beginning," he told reporters, adding that Myanmar recognizes the still enormous work ahead for one of Southeast Asia's most least-developed states.

Myanmar, he said, would continue to work with the EU. The 27-nation bloc lifted all sanctions except for the sale of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression.

The economic sanctions were suspended last April for one year after Myanmar's military rulers handed over power to a civilian government that launched democratic reforms. The measures had targeted more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people, and included the suspension of some development aid.

EU officials say the sanctions' permanent abolition will encourage firms and development organizations from the bloc - the world's largest economy - to strengthen ties with Myanmar.

"We know that much remains to be done, on human rights, on democracy, fighting poverty and achieving lasting peace. We don't underestimate the challenges", said Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief.

Aung Lynn said Myanmar was looking forward to assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN for the first time next year, and would show to the world how serious his country was about its reforms.

Myanmar declined the chairmanship in 2006 amid threats by Western governments to boycott ASEAN events due to Myanmar's then atrocious human rights record.

Aung Lynn's brief interview with journalists was considered rare. Before Myanmar embarked on democratic reforms, its leaders and diplomats struggled to evade reporters in ASEAN summits, where the former military junta's repressive record was often an object of scorn and attracted huge media attention.

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