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United States eases sanctions on Myanmar banks

People exchange currency to Myanmar's kyat banknotes at the office of a local bank in Yangon April 2, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
People exchange currency to Myanmar's kyat banknotes at the office of a local bank in Yangon April 2, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States relaxed sanctions on four large banks in Myanmar on Friday, allowing them access to the U.S. financial system as a reward for the country's political reforms.

The Treasury Department issued a general license to the Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank.

A general license eases restrictions and lets the banks deal with U.S. citizens and companies, but leaves sanctions laws on the books, giving Washington leverage should Myanmar start to backslide on reforms.

"Increased access to Burma's banking system for our companies and non-governmental organizations will help to facilitate Burma's continued social and economic development," said David Cohen, the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The United States still uses the traditional two-syllable name for the Southeast Asian country.

The announcement on Friday follows a similar move last July, when the U.S. Treasury issued general licenses allowing U.S. companies to invest in and provide financial services to Myanmar, as long as they make detailed disclosures about their dealings.

The United States, the European Union and others have gradually loosened restrictions on Myanmar in the last two years after the country started to open up its political system and freed hundreds of political prisoners.

Myanmar's leaders say sanctions have stifled their attempts to revive the economy and lift the resource-rich country out of poverty.

Sanctions have also been suspended or lifted by other developed countries, including Canada, Australia and Japan.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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