Burmese PM says sanctions 'hinder development'

Sept 29, 2009 (DVB), Sanctions on Burma are indiscriminate and impede social and economic development, the country's prime minister told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday.

The aim of sanctions, Thein Sein said, "is to influence the political and economic systems of those countries without taking into account their historical and cultural backgrounds".

"Sanctions have no moral basis as they not only hinder the economic and social development of the people but also interfere in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the country," he said, adding that they were "unjust".

The Burmese prime minister was speaking in New York yesterday after heading the most senior-level Burmese delegation to visit the General Assembly in 14 years.

His arrival coincided with an announcement by the US, which has held sanctions on Burma for over a decade, that it would look to increase dialogue with the regime.

Thein Sein's comments were met with skepticism from Burma observers, who claim that the prime minister was acting in self-defence.

"I'm pretty sure that he wanted to cover up the junta's own mismanagement of the economy," said Nyo Ohn Myint, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National League for Democracy , Liberated Areas (NLD-LA).

"They wanted to blame the international community, those who imposed sanctions on the regime."

The sanctions debate has been hotly contested since the US announced in February that it would be reviewing its policy to Burma in light of their failure.

Critics of sanctions argue that their impact has been dampened by ongoing trade between Burma and its regional allies, most notably Thailand and China.

"It's very hard, or impossible, to make any sort of quantification of the impact of sanctions," said Alison Vicary, Burma economics expert at Macquarie University, Australia.

"Certainly I'd say that having financial sanctions on basic money laundering from resources that have been stolen by the regime in itself is a positive thing for us because it stops the corruption of our local institutions."

She added that there is "very little evidence" that sanctions are damaging in people of Burma, due to them being "extremely well targeted".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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