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Southeast Asian Nations Oppose Sanctions Against Burma

10 October 2007

The U.N. Security Council is debating whether to condemn and punish Burma's government for its violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. But Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors are pushing the Burmese leadership to open an unconditional talks with opposition leaders. Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to release a statement during the next few days "strongly deploring" the Burmese military's use of force against peaceful protesters.

Even that statement is not as strong as some of the council members, especially Western countries, would have liked. But China, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto powers, pushed successfully for softer language.

China says it is opposed to sanctions to force the Burmese military leadership toward democratic reforms. And so do Burma's fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

ASEAN condemned the violence in Burma in the days following the crisis. But Dino Patti Djalal, spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, says Indonesia's position coincides with China's.

"Well, first we do not believe in sanctions. Sanctions have not worked on Myanmar, as it has proved, and we do believe in engagement," Djalal said. "So we also do not think at the moment that what happens in Myanmar is a matter that will disrupt regional security. I mean there is a political problem in Myanmar, but it is not an international security issue, so it needs to be put in the proper perspective."

ASEAN members are instead trying to persuade the Burmese generals to hold unconditional talks with the leader of the opposition, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The top Burmese general, Than Shwe, told a special U.N. envoy that he would meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, but only under conditions that the democracy leader is unlikely to accept.

Earlier this week, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar urged Burma's leaders to hold such talks without conditions, before the international community imposes stronger measures. The Singapore government has also called for unconditional talks.

Singapore's elder statesman, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was much more blunt on September 27, at the height of the crackdown. He referred to Burma's ruling military council as "dumb generals." He said they had mismanaged the economy badly, and would face revolt if their excesses continued.

The Burmese leadership has appointed a deputy minister to begin talks with Aung San Suu Kyi. The move is the latest in an apparent effort to keep international condemnation to a minimum. Whether the special liaison will attach conditions to any meetings is not yet known.

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