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Ex-Burmese diplomat urges tougher sanctions

A top-ranking Burmese diplomat who defected last week and is now seeking asylum in the US has said the international community should implement stronger financial penalties against the government, whilst ensuring the door remains open to engagement.

Kyaw Win, a career diplomat in the Burmese foreign ministry, penned a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 4 July outlining the reasons for his defection following after 31 years of service.

He cited disillusionment with the government in Naypyidaw and broken promises following the elections in November last year that Burma’s rulers said would usher in democratic reform. “The truth is that, despite the election that was held up as a democratic process, the military continues to hold uncontested power and democratic change under this system will not happen in the foreseeable future.”

As well as throwing his weight behind calls for a UN investigation into rights abuses in the country, Kyaw Win said that government officials and businessmen close to the regime should be hit in the pockets.

Addressing Clinton, he wrote: “I also respectfully urge you to fully implement highly targeted financial sanctions against the government and their cronies that serve to keep them in power. These sanctions can play a critical role in denying the regime, and the businessmen who live off of them, access to the international financial system.”

It echoes calls made recently by the US Campaign for Burma, who in June said that sanctions should be expanded to include all businessmen whose industries and capital help to maintain the status quo in the military-dominated country.

The first set of US sanctions were implemented in the mid-1990s but were upgraded with the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008, which specifically targets regime, military and judicial figures with financial penalties. But like Washington’s failure to date to officially announce a new US envoy to Burma, another clause stipulated in the JADE Act, financial sanctions are yet to be sufficiently sharpened.

Shortly after President Obama took office in 2008, the US government announced a policy of engagement with the Burmese government, breaking from years of isolation that seemingly bore few results.

Despite the calls for tougher sanctions, Kyaw Win said in the letter that attempts to engage must not be dropped.

“Please, it is more important than ever that my country not be allowed to disappear behind the headlines of countries experiencing their own troubles. There are many civil servants and those in the military who can benefit greatly from greater exposure to the international community and international norms and values.

“Continued engagement with my government at all levels can help open a window, change the mindset imprinted by the regime, and let them see an alternative path towards peace and freedom.”

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