Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sanctions - a stumbling block for Burma?

by Mungpi
Tuesday, 18 August 2009 18:30

New Delhi (Mizzima) – (Analysis) On the now contentious issue of sanctions, Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she had not indicated to the visiting US Senator Jim Webb that she will not oppose lifting of some of the sanctions imposed by western countries on Burma.

Ohn Kyaing, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy on Tuesday said, Aung San Suu Kyi has explicitly denied having commented to the visiting US Senator that she will not oppose the lifting of some of the economic sanctions.

The clarification came on Tuesday after the visiting Senator Webb on Monday told reporters at a press conference in Bangkok that during his talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, she had indicated that she will not oppose lifting of some of the economic sanctions.

“Senator Webb might have misinterpreted Aung San Suu Kyi, because she explicitly denies making any comments that could indicate that she will not oppose lifting sanctions,” Ohn Kyaing said.

Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday evening told her party spokesperson Nyan Win, who visited her as her lawyer, to discuss her case, that she had been misinterpreted by Webb.

The detained Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate has never changed her position on the economic sanctions imposed on Burma but reiterated her call to the junta supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe to work together for the development of Burma including easing off of economic sanctions, Ohn Kyaing said.

“U Nyan Win had told us that Aung San Suu Kyi is not happy with the comments and feels that she had been misinterpreted wrongly. Sanctions were not called for by her and she has no power to remove it, but she is willing to work together with the ruling junta,” Ohn Kyaing said.

Time and again, Burma’s ruling generals have accused Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party of advocating economic sanctions and opting for total devastation and confrontation with the junta and had asked Aung San Suu Kyi to call for lifting the sanctions.

But the NLD, Ohn Kyaing said, has never called for economic sanctions and has no power to withdraw it.

“We believe that the first step in trying to lift sanctions is to begin with a discussion between the opposition and the junta and to work together to develop the country,” Ohn Kyaing said.

It is meaningless to accuse the NLD of choosing utter devastation of the country, when the Generals are unwilling to talk to anybody and unwilling to cooperate with others to work for the development of the country, he added.

Despite the clarifications by Aung San Suu Kyi through her spokesperson, several groups advocating anti-sanctions in Burma have welcomed the comment and the tourism industry viewed it as a green signal to explore travel business in the country.

Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Thailand and now member of the Network Myanmar, and a long time campaigner advocating engagement with Burma said it is the first step of moving in the right direction and urged people around the world to visit Burma.

“Tourism does not serve the military generals but helps local Burmese people to get employed,” Tonkin told Mizzima welcoming the comment of Webb on Aung San Suu Kyi’s indication.

Tourism, according to Tonkin, is one safe sector where the Burmese people can directly benefit as the industry largely is in the hands of private businesses, who are not members or even related to the regime.

“Tourists can easily avoid going to hotels or places run by the military authorities and make their choice of living in private hotels, which will help the Burmese people,” Tonkin said.

But Aung San Suu Kyi in an interview with the BBC in 2002, said the situation in Burma has not improved and is not in a good condition to encourage people to pay a visit.

But her comments did not carry any message of advocating the imposition of sanctions and isolating the country, her party members said.

“It is purely up to the countries that impose sanctions to lift or continue. But Aung San Suu Kyi has been calling on the junta to begin working together starting with a talk between the two,” Ohn Kyaing said.

Nyo Ohn Myint, in-charge of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NLD in exile, said Webb must have, out of “excitement”, misinterpreted Aung San Suu Kyi of not opposing the lifting of some of the sanctions imposed on the country.

“As far as I understand, Webb would not like to twist the information but it is more of a misinterpretation,” said Nyo Ohn Myint.

Given Webb’s background of being opposed to economic sanctions, Nyo Ohn Myint said, he might have a misconception of the ideas behind Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments.

“Aung San Suu Kyi might have told him that she is willing to work with the junta in order to develop the country as a whole and not just lifting of sanctions,” Nyo Ohn Myint said.

Stumbling block

While Webb’s comment on Aung San Suu Kyi might have come as a misinterpretation, it clearly shows that many Burma observers are beginning to doubt the effectiveness of sanctions and are seeing engagement as another possible way to bring a change in Burma.

Sanctions, in the strictest terms, have only been imposed by a few western countries on Burma. But it has largely been negatively viewed as a big obstacle for any economic progress in military-ruled Burma.

Regional countries, including those of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as China and India had consistently been engaging the regime and are directly supplying the much needed revenue through purchase of natural resources including oil and gas.

While these countries continue maintaining a so-called “constructive engagement”, they have proved failed in persuading the regime to implement reforms.

While the military regime has time and again blamed sanctions for Burma’s economic deterioration, Sean Turnell, a Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia said that the regime’s mismanagement is the root cause of Burma’s deteriorating economy.

Turnell said, Burma’s economy is largely dependent on the prevailing political situation. And with the ruling junta lacking the expertise and reluctant to allow experts to handle the economy, the country’s fate is inevitable.

Sanctions do not play a role in bringing down the economy but are useful as a political tool that send messages of opposition to the regime’s rule, he added.

According to Nyo Ohn Myint, lifting off sanctions without any considerable change in the behaviour of the regime would not help Burma move forward but will only be an incentive to the regime.

He said sanctions as a political tool that they are, should be used as a ‘stick’ while lifting them, as the generals make progress in political reforms, should be the ‘carrot’.

“Economically, sanctions are not a stumbling block, but they are a stumbling block politically for the regime,” he added.

Leave a Reply