Friday, August 14, 2009

Thailand Weakens Sanctions against Burma

The Irrawaddy News

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that Thailand had no problem with other countries putting more pressure on the military regime including arms sanctions, but opposed banning gems, the Bangkok Post reported on Friday.

Thailand and China are the two largest importers of Burmese gemstones.

Abhisit made clear Thailand's position on gems sanctions in talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Bangkok on July 21, and said Thailand opposed banning Burmese gems in order to put more pressure on the military regime after the sentencing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week.

Former US President George Bush signed the Burma Jade Act into law on July 29, 2008, restricting the import of Burmese gemstones and extending existing import sanctions on Burma.

According to the Burmese Central Statistical Organization, Burma produced 30,896.44 tons of jade and 20.5 million carats of gems in 2008. The gems included ruby, sapphire, spinel, peridot and pearl.

British ambassador to Thailand Quinton Quayle said after talks with Abhisit that more measures would be imposed on Burma if the junta continued to ignore calls for Suu Kyi's release. Britain now holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council.

"I think Prime Minister Abhisit and his foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, will have to hold talks with all Asean country leaders in order to find out what steps can be taken next, apart from issuing a [Asean] statement," Quayle said.

As chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Thailand released a statement on Wednesday in which it expressed "deep disappointment" at the Burmese court's ruling on Tuesday.

Thailand is largely dependent on Burma for its energy needs and also has investments in telecommunications there.

Some analysts said that the effectiveness of international sanctions on Burma are limited owing to the Burmese junta’s close links with China, India and Thailand.

According to Agence France Presse, "They are a huge block [against international action]," said Ian Holliday, dean of social sciences at the University of Hong Kong and an expert on Burma. "China is the essential one, and India and Thailand follow in its wake."

The EU, US and other countries have targeted Burma with economic sanctions and travel bans.

The European Union on Thursday said it is expanding its sanctions against Burma after the Burmese junta sentenced pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to an additional 18 months of house arrest.

"It would not be appropriate for India to join the US-led efforts if it wants to retain any influence in Burma," said C Uday Bhaskar, head of India's National Maritime Foundation think tank.

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