United States to review Burma policy

Apr 10, 2009 (DVB), The United States has announced it will review policy to Burma following a rare US official visit to the country last month and an acknowledgement by the government in February that its policy has so far failed.

The review, announced on Wednesday, is set to find more effective ways in spurring democratisation and achieving Western goals in Burma, said a statement released by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The US Senate is said to be frustrated that current sanctions are not moving Burma towards democracy, the release of political prisoners, and other reforms.

"The source cited a growing feeling that pressure on countries that are the subject of sanctions should be "complemented" by dialogue, and that pressure without a strategy about how to effect change will not bring that change about," the statement said, quoting a congressional source who asked to remain anonymous.

The announcement was welcomed by the National League for Democracy (Liberated Areas), an exiled Burmese political organisation.

"The Bush administration's pressure hasn't changed the regime's mindset," said Nyo Ohn Myint, chairman of the NLD-LA Foreign Affairs Committee. "There were not productive results during his administration."

"We would like to see more positive results and more effective means from whoever governs the US," he added.

"We need [Aung San] Suu Kyi freed, free and fair elections, and the democratization process must be secured."

The statement said that there was "no appetite to lift sanctions" without a real move by Burma’s junta to free dissidents or expand the country’s political process.

The US imposed tough sanctions against Burma following the failure of the government to honour the National League for Democracy's overwhelming victory in the 1990 elections.

The US would also look at China’s growing influence in Burma, public health issues, hurricane reconstruction, and the country’s preparations for the 2010 elections, the statement said.

"These regional countries [China, India and Thailand] are very important so we appreciated it very much if the US is going to coordinate with China and [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations]," said Nyo Ohn Myint.

An anonymous source from the American Embassy in Rangoon said that the US will be looking outwards for assistance on its Burma policy.

"I know that they're reaching beyond just the executive branch of the government," he said.

"They're talking with NGO's, they're talking with think-tanks, and they're talking with anyone who has a voice on the issue, so it's ongoing."

The first hint that a change in US-Burma policy may occur was given in February when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the path the US had taken on Burma had failed to influence the military government.

Then came a rare meeting in March between a US official and senior government officials in the Burmese capital.

The meeting coincided with a statement by the European Union that it would consider easing sanctions were it to see progress towards democracy in Burma.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

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