Sanctions call ‘echoes Burmese junta’

A key figure in Burma’s opposition has launched a broadside against recent calls by five ethnic parties to end Western sanctions on the Southeast Asian pariah.

The debate over the economic blockade first enacted by the US in the mid-1990s was rekindled yesterday after a meeting of regional foreign ministers in Indonesia concluded that sanctions on Burma must be dropped.

The meeting coincided with a statement released by five ethnic parties who all won seats in Burma’s recent elections that said sanctions “are causing many difficulties in the important areas of trade, investment and modern technologies for the development of ethnic regions”.

But, according to Win Tin, a senior member and co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the parties “all sound like the military junta”, which has also claimed that sanctions are hurting Burmese people.

“I don’t think sanctions harm the people as they only mean to block the fortunes made by the military generals and their cronies through their arms deals.”

But the NLD’s once unequivocal backing for all aspects of the US and EU sanctions packages, that include a block on importing Burmese goods such as jade and teak, may be softening, Win Tin signalled. “Trade sanctions may hamper the people as well so we are keen to listen to their [the people’s] voice and collect their opinion.”

Critics of sanctions say they have failed in their one main objective: the weakening of the ruling generals’ grip on power. The rise of China as an economic giant and key ally of the junta has meant that it can survive regardless of trade with the West, while Burma’s regional neighbours, many of whom will have backed yesterday’s motion, continue to pour billions into the economy.

One of the ethnic parties to sign the statement was the Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), which came fourth in the 7 November elections.

“It has been analysed for over 20 years whether the sanctions are really taking effect on the [government’s] budget or just damaging the people,” said Dr Aye Maung, chairman of the RNDP.

“There is controversy over whether problems with the development of the country are caused by sanctions. Whether this is true or not is what we’ll have to analyse thoroughly from both sides.”

Ending sanctions now would cause a softening in the new government and spur the transition toward democracy in Burma, he added, calling for an “immediate” end to the blockade.

The other parties who signed the statement are the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), which came third in the polls, the All Mon Region Democracy Party, the Chin National Party and Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party.

The five make up a combined 126 of more than 1000 seats in the new parliament, which is set to hold its first session on 31 January.

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