Wed, Feb 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

NLD seeking talks on sanctions

TWO-EDGED SWORD?The embargoes were intended to force Myanmar’s regime to improve its human rights record, but many experts say they hurt ordinary people

REUTERS, YANGON, MYANMAR

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to young people yesterday at her National League for Democracy party head office in Yangon, Myanmar.

Photo: EPA

The party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday it wanted talks with Western nations on how to modify sanctions on Myanmar, a move signalling greater flexibility if the ruling junta makes concessions.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) added that responsible investment guidelines could ease economic hardships in the impoverished country.

“The NLD calls for discussions with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia with a view to reaching agreement on when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment,” the party statement said.

The statement comes a day after NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo said that the pro-democracy party recommended maintaining Western sanctions on the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest on Nov. 13, had backed the sanctions as part of her fight against decades of authoritarian military rule.

The embargoes were intended to force the regime to improve its poor human rights record and initiate democratic reforms.

However, many experts say sanctions hurt the Burmese people, pushing the ruling generals closer to China and Thailand, which are tapping the country’s vast energy reserves.

Soon after her release, Aung San Suu Kyi indicated she might recommend the lifting of the embargoes, attracting wide attention in the West.

Around the same time, Myanmar launched a drive to attract Asian investors, touting its tourism potential and abundant supplies of gemstones, timber, oil and gas, much of which remained intact because of “unfavorable Western sanctions.”

Such sanctions have not affected the wealth of the military junta’s top brass, but have hampered efforts to acquire new weapons technology and increased their dependence on China.

Many experts see the sanctions as Aung San Suu Kyi’s best, and perhaps only, bargaining chip.

While hugely popular, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have no official political role in Myanmar having boycotted the Nov. 7 election.

A civilian parliament dominated by retired and serving soldiers convened last week for the first time in five decades and chose a new president but the old regime is expected to pull the strings.

Experts suggest Aung San Suu Kyi could act as a mediator between the West and the generals towards easing the sanctions in return for reforms.

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