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East Timor calls for Burma arms embargo

Oct 13, 2009 (DVB), International pressure on Burma has once again intensified following calls from the East Timorese president for a United Nations arms embargo on the ruling junta.

The imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi in August and ongoing state-sanctioned human rights abuses provide strong justification for greater UN Security Council pressure, Dr Jose Ramos-Horta said in a statement yesterday.

"The deterioration in the political and humanitarian situation calls for a clear response by the international community," he said, adding that recent dialogue between Suu Kyi and the junta, and new US policy to Burma, were encouraging signs.

"A combination of high-level, principled engagement with specific targeted pressure is what is required to bring the Generals to the negotiating table," he said.

He added that a number of events that have occurred in Burma over the past two years, including the crackdown on monks protesting in September 2007, the famine in Chin state and the slow response to cyclone Nargis last year, "have shocked the world".

"There can be no justification for selling arms to a regime which has no external threats and uses those arms simply to suppress its owns people," he said.

Ramos-Horta won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his role in negotiating a peaceful solution to conflict in East Timor.

According to Amnesty International, Burma receives the majority of its arms from China, followed by Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, Serbia and Israel.

Benjamin Zawacki, Southeast Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said that China and Russia's presence in the Security Council would likely thwart any movement on a Council-backed arms embargo.

"None of these countries, for economic reasons, and equally importantly for political reasons, would be interested in backing that," he said.

Although an arms embargo would have considerable political consequences for the regime, militarily it may not.

"[Burma] produces enough of its arms domestically to continue oppressing its own people [and] it really has no credible border threat," he said, adding that he thought current tension along its borders with China and Bangladesh was unlikely to develop into a full-blown conflict.

The majority of Burmese troops are armed with the domestically-made G3 and MA rifles, the latter an Israeli design.

While its domestic production "is more than enough for their domestic purposes", Zawacki said, in the event of conflict with external forces, it would be "woefully inadequate".

Reporting by Francis Wade


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