Suu Kyi Seeks to Review Sanctions; Asks How Curbs Affect People

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 29, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Suu Kyi Seeks to Review Sanctions; Asks How Curbs Affect People

Byline: Ashish Kumar Sen, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi wants to review the consequences of sanctions on her country, Myanmar, before she can determine whether these curbs need to be lifted or focused more sharply.

In a phone interview with The Washington Times from Yangon on Friday, Mrs. Suu Kyi said her National League for Democracy (NLD) party is prepared to review the situation to find out if our people had really been hurt by the sanctions, and if they had been, in what way.

We want to know if it's really time for sanctions to be lifted, or it's time for sanctions to be adapted, she said.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention, was released from house arrest on Nov. 13.

Last year, she sent a letter to Myanmar's ruling military generals suggesting that the NLD, the country's largest opposition party, may cooperate with them to bring

about an end to sanctions.

The NLD periodically reviews the effectiveness of sanctions.

If we find that the sanctions are only hurting the people and that there is no positive outcome as a result of the sanctions, then certainly we would consider calling on those who have imposed sanctions to think whether it is not time to stop them, Mrs. Suu Kyi said.

But it is not as simple as all that, she said. There are many, many aspects of sanctions undertaken by our supporters because they wanted to help us achieve the democratic process. So it is not as easy as saying, 'Well, we think that it's time for sanctions to be lifted.'"

While the Obama administration has initiated a senior-level diplomatic dialogue with Myanmar's authorities, sanctions continue to be an important tool of U.S. policy.

In July, a measure to extend sanctions on Myanmar sailed through Congress: The House passed the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 in a voice vote, and it garnered the support of 99 of the Senate's 100 members.

A congressional source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the matter, said several members of Congress are looking to Mrs. Suu Kyi for guidance.

If they see her taking a more pragmatic and conciliatory approach, it would create a lot more space for a more flexible position in Congress on sanctions, the congressional source said.

Mrs. Suu Kyi doesn't think there is anything wrong with the two-pronged U.S. approach toward Myanmar, which also is known as Burma.

I think engagement is a good thing. Whether or not it has an effect on the generals is something that you must ask [U.S. officials], she said.

A U.S. official, who spoke on background citing the sensitive nature of the matter, said the sanctions provide an important source of leverage for influencing the regime's behavior.

The Obama administration intends to keep the sanctions in place until Myanmar's regime releases all political prisoners, ends attacks against ethnic groups and establishes a meaningful dialogue with opposition groups, the U.S. official said.

Human rights groups estimate that Myanmar is holding 2,100 political prisoners.

Mrs. Suu Kyi said the international community must work in coordination to be effective in dealing with Myanmar's military rulers. That would help a great deal. I think at the moment there are different policies with regard to Myanmar and it does detract from the eventual effectiveness of various initiatives, she said.

China, India and Thailand and other countries have engaged Myanmar's military rulers with an eye on the country's vast natural resources.

This engagement raises the question whether the U.S. has diminished its influence in Myanmar and made its people more dependent on their neighbors, particularly China, the congressional source said.

In an address to India's Parliament in New Delhi this month, President Obama urged India to condemn the violation of human rights and suppression of peaceful democratic movements in Myanmar.

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