Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Burmese Opposition Groups Urge Increased Sanctions Pressure

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — Two major Burmese opposition groups have urged the US to maintain and stiffen its economic sanctions against the military junta until all political prisoners are released and the regime agrees to a meaningful dialogue with the National League of Democracy (NLD) and ethnic representatives.

The text of the letter, written by the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) and the 88 Generation Students to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was released to the press on Tuesday.

Two leaders of the organizations, Ashin Aww Bar Sa of the ABMA and Tun Myint Aung of the 88 Generation Students, signed the letter from their hiding place. An acquaintance of the two told The Irrawaddy that they believed they should relay their message to Clinton during the US administration’s policy review on Burma, as their arrest could be imminent.

There was no immediate response from the US State Department. State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood told reporters last week that the administration is still reviewing its Burma policy.

“The Secretary hasn’t been happy with the way we have moved forward, the way we have dealt with this in the past,” Wood said. “We’re going to be consulting with our partners in terms of what’s the best way forward in dealing with Burma.”

In their letter, the two Burmese opposition groups urged Clinton to consider stiffening the sanctions with additional measures, including visa bans and other penalties on the regime’s crony businessmen and political surrogates. They also called for a global arms embargo by the UN Security Council if the junta refuses to implement meaningful change.

The letter calls for US diplomatic effort to organize other nations, especially Burma’s neighbors China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), as well as the EU, to work together to address the situation in Burma with common interest, shared responsibility and unified action. A clear benchmark would be the best way to make sanctions and engagement effective and produce positive results, the opposition leaders argue.

The groups say they support any move for direct engagement between the US and the military junta, but add that any talks should include the junta leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

At last week’s briefing, Acting Spokesman Wood said Secretary of State Clinton remained “very concerned” about the current situation in Burma.

“She has not been happy with policies that we’ve had up until now and, as a result of the administration’s concern about what’s going on in Burma, decided to engage in a very thorough review,” Wood said.

“We’re looking to try to find a way, in working with our other partners in the international community, to address the major concerns that we have, particularly in the humanitarian sphere, with regard to Burma,” he said.

Acknowledging that the sanctions against the military junta have not brought about the desired effect that the US wanted, Wood said: “We’re looking just to see what further we can do.”

The Obama Administration would be working with other partners in the international community to try to figure out a way forward, he said. “We haven’t gotten the changes in terms of behavior that we want to see from the Burmese Government. So we’ll continue to see what we can do.”

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