PHNOM PENH: Asean leaders yesterday urged the West to lift crippling sanctions on Myanmar following its historic by-elections, saying this would propel the country along in its democratic reforms and economic development.
The call, made at a closed-door meeting at the ongoing Asean summit here, was in line with the bloc's long-held policy of engaging the once-reclusive regime.
It also came amid international praise for the recent polls, which gave democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi a parliamentary seat and Myanmar's credibility a boost.
Yesterday, the nation's President, Mr Thein Sein, told fellow Asean leaders that he accepted the results of Sunday's polls, which he described as 'transparent, free and fair'.
He also made his first public remarks on the polls, telling reporters: 'The election was held successfully.'
Myanmar's Union Election Commission yesterday confirmed the election results.
Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 43 of the 45 seats contested, while the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party won a seat each.
Mr Thein Sein also thanked Asean members which sent delegations to observe the polls. Singapore had sent a team of two MPs and senior officials, who visited 70 polling stations and reported the by-elections as generally well-organised, free and fair.
An Asean delegation also said that despite allegations of ballot tampering, it had not observed any incidents that could have affected the election process or results.
Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan confirmed the leaders' call for sanctions to be lifted, and noted that Myanmar held tremendous potential.
'Now that national reconciliation and reforms are taking place, we hope this will contribute further to the role of Myanmar as a rightful member of Asean and being integrated more effectively into the global community,' he said.
'Asean is proud to be a part of that journey of Myanmar.'
Asean had long maintained that the world should engage Myanmar rather than isolate it, and kept it within the bloc despite pressure to boot it out. Last year, Asean members also backed Myanmar's bid to take the chair of the grouping in 2014.
In contrast, many Western nations - namely the United States and the European Union - had levied restrictive sanctions to punish Myanmar's former military regime for its authoritarian ways, such as placing Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for 22 years.
The 27-nation EU, for instance, restricts aid to Myanmar and freezes the nation out of a preferential trading agreement for less-developed countries. It also bans the sale of weapons to Myanmar, as well as supplies for its logging and mining sectors.
Whether the EU will lift the sanctions is likely to be discussed when its foreign ministers meet in three weeks.
'We do expect the foreign ministers will recognise the changes and there will be a positive signal from the council,' EU foreign affairs spokesman Maja Kocijancic was reported by Reuters as saying.
The US is also mulling over the easing of its sanctions, which would require Congress' approval. American lawmakers have welcomed the changes in Myanmar but have also urged caution as they seek progress on more fronts, including resolving ethnic violence.
The Myanmar polls were among the issues that came up on the first day of the two-day 20th Asean Summit.
Asean leaders also discussed how to move ahead on the dispute regarding overlapping claims in the South China Sea, which involves China and several Asean nations.
Yesterday, the bloc's leaders adopted the Phnom Penh Agenda, which pledges to move forward on efforts to come up with a binding code of conduct governing activities in the disputed area.
They also grappled with questions on how the regional bloc can achieve its goal of integration, to form a single market by 2015.
-- Straits Times