US echoes Burma opposition ‘failures’

US diplomats have reportedly admitted to Burma’s main opposition party that Washington’s shift towards engagement with the ruling junta has achieved nothing.

Two officials from the US embassy in Rangoon visited the National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s headquarters yesterday where they asserted the US government’s disappointment with recently announced election laws.

“[The officials] also made a little acknowledgement that their attempt to improve the situation by making contact with the [junta] has not yet achieved anything,” said NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo.

It coincided with a statement released yesterday by the NLD in which it made a frank apology for its failure to overturn military rule in Burma. The NLD decided last month not to contest elections this year, a move that will see the party legally abolished.

The statement said that all efforts over the past 20 years to create dialogue with the junta and to convene a parliament and draft a democratic constitution had “totally failed”.

The two acknowledgments together provide a stark reminder of the intransigence of the Burmese junta, which appears set to hold onto power following the elections under the guise of a civilian government.

Sean Turnell, an Australian-based Burma economics expert who has made several trips to the US to meet with government officials in the past six months, said there had been a sea change in attitude in the US since the excitement that surrounded the policy shift in September last year.

“[Now] there is a great deal of anger, on Capitol Hill especially, and a real feeling of having been rebuffed; that the hand had been extended and they were getting nothing,” he said. “If anything, [the US felt that] the regime had gone out of its way to make the situation that little bit more uncomfortable.”

Washington announced in September that it would seek engagement with Burma following years of an isolationist policy that bore few results. A number of subsequent acts by the junta, such as the imprisonment of US citizen Nyi Nyi Aung, have however thrown sand in the faces of the US policymakers who first pushed the idea of dialogue.

The NLD’s boycott of the elections has received mixed reactions. While some observers and the majority of the international community have supported the move, others have argued that the party should have taken advantage of the looming transition, however superficial it is, to gain greater leeway in Burmese politics.

Additional reporting by Francis Wade

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