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Suu Kyi’s party seeks talks with West on sanctions

The National League for Democracy (NLD) has said that it wants talks with Western countries concerning their sanctions against Myanmar (Burma). It wants the embargoes to encourage democracy and human rights.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi requested a meeting with Western countries

One day after the National League for Democracy (NLD) had voiced its support for Western sanctions, its leader Aung San Suu Kyi has requested a meeting with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia. The aim of the discussion is to modify the embargoes "in the interests of democracy, human rights, and a healthy economic development," as stated by the party.

A poor farmer in Myanmar

According to the regime, sanctions push the country deeper into poverty

Sanctions to improve human rights In a four-page report, the NLD also said that sanctions primarily affect the authoritarian military regime and not the general population, as some fear. The report is expected to upset the country’s military regime, which has been waiting for the sanctions to be lifted. The regime keeps saying that sanctions hurt the people of Myanmar and have pushed the country deeper into poverty.

But "available evidence indicates that economic conditions within the country have not been affected by sanctions in any notable degree," the party's report states. On the contrary, the NLD blames Myanmar’s current economic depression on the regime’s economic policies. The junta is said to have blocked market forces and to have only cooperated with selected partners. The NLD wants the embargoes to force the regime to improve the poor human rights record and start democratic reforms.

Trade and travel embargoes for the junta

Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Than Shwe

For almost 50 years, Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. In the wake of an army crackdown in 1988, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank ended their aid to the southeast Asian country. Many western countries also froze their aid at the same time. The United States prohibits its private sector from trading with companies tied to the junta, as well as from investing in Myanmar. The European Union has frozen the assets and business of junta leaders, and blacklisted them for travel.

Supporters of sanctions say they are the only way to pressure the military rulers. Derek Tonkin, a Myanmar analyst and former British ambassador to Thailand, also welcomed the NLD’s position on the issue. "They are being more flexible and trying to work themselves into a position for negotiation. It is certainly a very good political statement, with some very reasonable points and a very coherent defense of sanctions," Tonkin told Reuters. But critics of the policy maintain that sanctions such as investment restrictions for Western companies are hindering development in what is said to be one of the world’s poorest nations.

Wealthy regime

A supporter of Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD)

Suu Kyi and her party are popular in the country but do not have stake in the government

Despite the restrictions on Western businesses, investments from Asian companies, especially from China, India, Thailand and South Korea, have been accelerating. Last year Chinese companies poured in more than 8 billion dollars in mostly energy-related projects, according to official Myanmar data. The former British colony once was one of southeast Asia’s wealthiest and most promising nations, the world’s biggest rice exporter and a major energy producer.

The debate on the Myanmar sanctions started again after Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released in November from house arrest. Despite its huge popularity, Suu Kyi’s party, NLD, does not have any stake in the political system after having boycotted the November 7 election. Nonetheless, Suu Kyi has considerable influence over the international community. Experts suggest that she might act as a mediator between the West and the reclusive generals, with the sanctions being her only bargaining chip.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (Reuters, dpa, afp)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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