Wednesday, October 5, 2011

US Remains Tough on Burma Sanctions

WASHINGTON—Although encouraged by the recent steps taken by the new Burmese government, the United States on Tuesday said that Burma needs to do more before the Obama administration can consider lifting economic sanctions.

“We are encouraged by some of the progress that we’ve seen in Burma, but we think that more needs to be done,” a US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, told reporters at her daily news conference.

The US government is continuing that dialogue with the Burmese government, she said referring to the two recent rounds of talks with the visiting Burmese foreign minister in New York and Washington.

During those meeting, the Burmese officials reportedly urged the State Department to lift US sanctions.

Meanwhile, speaking on the Senate floor, a prominent US senator noted recent developments in Burma, and said he hoped that a time would come when sanctions would not be needed against Burma.

“I am hopeful that the time will soon come when sanctions against the Burmese government will no longer be needed—that like South Africa in the early 1990s, the people of Burma will be able to free themselves from their own government,” Senator Mitch McConnell said.

Referring to a recent letter written by the Burmese Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, who sought political asylum, McConnell said the letter to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, indicated that the Burmese junta appears to maintain an iron grip on its people, and continues to carry out a foreign policy that is inimical to US interests.

“The United States must continue to deny this regime the legitimacy it craves by continuing sanctions, and these sanctions must remain in place until true democratic reform comes to the people of Burma,” he said.

Speaking on the Senate floor a week after the Senate passed a bill to extend sanctions against Burma by another year, McConnell said this overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctioning the junta reflects the clear view of the US Senate that the purportedly “new” Burmese regime that took office earlier this year so far appears little different from the “old” regime.

“The casual observer could be excused for thinking that things have changed dramatically for the better in Burma over the past year,” he said. “After all, elections were held last fall, a new regime took office earlier this year, and Aung San Suu Kyi was freed. However, as our experience with Burma has taught us, things there usually require a closer look.”

The “new regime,” he said, appears to be essentially the junta with only the thinnest democratic veneer. The Burmese Constitution, which places great power in the hands of the military, cannot be amended without the blessing of the armed forces. Furthermore, those in Parliament are limited in how they can criticize the regime.

“The only legitimately good news was Suu Kyi’s release,” McConnell said. “Yet the extent of her freedom to travel remains an open question. Moreover, despite her release, nearly 2,000 other political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma. They are no better off than before. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons who are without a home due to the repressive policies of the junta.”
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