Sweden scrutinizes US policy to Burma

Oct 27, 2009 (DVB), Burmese activists and aid workers took center stage at the Swedish parliament yesterday for a discussion forum aimed at scrutinising US policy to Burma.

Sweden holds the current presidency of the European Union, which last week pledged €35 million ($US52m) in aid to Burma.

The pledge coincided with a visit to Burma by Sweden's ambassador to Thailand, Lennart Linner, billed as a "fact-finding mission".

Former Burmese UNICEF worker, Dr Khin Zaw Win, told DVB that the US was following in the footsteps of the EU in promoting engagement with Burma's military rulers.

"The general opinion is that the isolation method isn't working," he said. "The majority looks forward to participating in the upcoming elections one way or another."

He added that with the shift in US policy, "questions loom as to what the UN is going to do" regarding Burma.

Although the EU expanded its sanctions on Burma following the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi in August, it is said to be exploring various avenues for greater dialogue with the junta prior to elections scheduled for next year.

Dr Salai Lian Hmung, from the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), said that "rather than seeing a continuation of the military dictatorship, we would like to see a change".

"We regard the 2010 election as a way to reach out for change and have already issued a statement saying we will not disagree with or denounce any democracy or ethnic groups entering the elections," he said.

"We can't expect the United States to remove sanctions at once; it can only be done through step by step negotiations.

"The more important thing is that we need to point out the lies told by the [Burmese government] who said that sanctions are only hurting the people."

The EU aid will go via the new Livelihoods and Food Security Trust (LIFT) fund, which is then set to channel the money through various non-governmental organizations. EU policy dictates that aid cannot go straight to the Burmese government.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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