Thu, Jul 10, 2003 - Page 5 News List

US mulls sanctions against Myanmar, efficacy not clear

AP , BANGKOK

With Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi again under arrest, the US is preparing tough economic sanctions against the ruling military junta to make it change its course.

But history and politics argue that such moves may have little effect.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has come under intense international criticism since arresting Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi on May 30. Japan, Myanmar's largest aid donor, has announced plans not to extend new development assistance.

Now an imminent US ban on imports from Myanmar could cut its export earnings by one-quarter to one-third. The country's exports to the US totaled about US$356 million last year, mostly in garments.

The import ban is part of a package of measures the US Congress assembled to punish the ruling junta for its fresh crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement.

A bill passed by the Senate is awaiting House approval, and US President George W. Bush is expected to quickly sign it into law.

Lawmakers were angry at the apparent violent provocation by Myanmar's military which triggered the crackdown and has put Suu Kyi in detention for an indefinite period. Never convicted of a crime, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate was previously held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and again from 2000 to last year.

"The message that we are sending to the ruling junta in Burma is clear: Its behavior is outrageous," said Senator Patrick Leahy.

Proposed EU trade barriers would also chip away at export earnings.

But Myanmar, long ruled by generals, has a long history of economic isolation giving it a certain immunity against sanctions.

The late military dictator General Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988, espoused a "Burmese Road to Socialism," banning most foreign investment which turned one of Southeast Asia's most prosperous economies into a basket case.

The country has gone without much bilateral aid and no new aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund since 1988 when the military brutally crushed a pro-democracy uprising. Washington banned new investment by US companies in 1997.

"People have mixed feelings about sanctions," said U Saw, a businessman. "They know there is a need, but it affects the people."

People are used to hardship, U Saw said.

"Forty years ago we are suffering. Today we are suffering," he said.

Global maneuvering may lessen the impact of sanctions.

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