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Parties lobby EU for end to sanctions

Ten opposition parties have joined together to call on the EU to terminate sanctions on Burma, claiming that the post-election “evolution” underway in the country warranted a rethink of European policy.

An open letter sent to Brussels last week and signed by the ‘Myanmar Fraternal Democratic Parties’ – a loose alliance that includes the National Democratic Force (NDF) and Democratic Party Myanmar (DPM), as well as a number of ethnic parties – criticised the current embargo as responsible for “[denying Burmese] the benefits of increased foreign investment that brings technology, better working conditions and modern global ideas”.

“Though sanctions are not the prime cause for poverty in our country, they have hit labor-intensive sectors like garments, seafood and wood processing, and prevent new jobs from being created”, it continued, adding that the EU should also lift its opposition to tourists travelling to Burma.

Khin Maung Swe, leader of the NDF, said that the group had also called on EU ministers to aid dialogue between the opposition and the Burmese junta.

The debate over whether sanctions should remain on the pariah has split the opposition: some say that measures such as the visa ban are making life uncomfortable for the ruling generals, while others see the approach as ineffective in the face of continued regional, particularly Chinese, investment in Burma. Some even claim the protracted debate is itself an obstacle to progress in the military-ruled country.

The letter’s signatories are all part of the body of democratic parties that competed and won seats in the November 2010 elections. The National League for Democracy (NLD), which despite its boycott of the polls is still considered to be the leading opposition force in Burma, continues to be the strongest proponent of sanctions but has acknowledged the need for a review.

In a statement released last month, the party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said it would look to engage with Western nations in a bid to modify sanctions following a study in which it found that Burmese citizens were not affected by the embargo.

Suu Kyi herself has said however that greater foreign investment, provided it is done carefully, could improve conditions for Burmese who have been “left behind”.

Some analysts claim that the poor targeting of sanctions effectively amounts to a humanitarian boycott, with the quantity of overseas development assistance (ODA) going into Burma now lower than Cambodia, despite having a population three times the size.

The remaining signatories to the EU letter are the Chin National Party, Democracy and Peace Party, Nationla Political Alliance, Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party, Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, Union Democratic Partyand Wunthanu National League for Democracy.

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