/ 20 February 2008

Nobel laureates urge arms embargo on Burma

A group of Nobel laureates called on Wednesday for an arms embargo against Burma, dismissing elections planned for 2010 as flawed if pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from standing.

A group of seven laureates, including Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said the junta should face sanctions for its crackdown on Buddhist monks last September rather than plaudits for its recent announcement of an election timetable.

”No nation should sell arms to a regime that uses weapons exclusively against its own people,” said a joint statement issued from Tutu’s office.

”We call upon the international community to actively work to implement arms embargoes against the regime. Further we appeal to members of the Security Council and the international community to take action … [to] prevent the sale of arms including a ban on banking transactions to the Burmese military.”

China, one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, is a major supplier of weapons to Burma’s military rulers.

The junta, in power since crushing a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, caused surprise on February 8 in announcing plans for a referendum on a new constitution which it said would set the stage for national elections in 2010.

However, the government has told its regional counterparts that Aung San Suu Kyi, whose British husband died of cancer nine years ago, could not run in the elections as her spouse was foreign.

The Nobel laureates said it was essential the National League for Democracy leader be released from house arrest and her party allowed to contest the elections, calling the roadmap ”flawed”.

”The NLD and Burma’s ethnic nationalities must play an inclusive role in determining a negotiated settlement and transition to democracy.”

Burma has been under concerted international pressure over its crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September, when the UN says at least 31 people were killed.

But the generals have ignored calls to free Aung San Suu Kyi and open a political dialogue, instead sticking to their own roadmap for democracy, which critics say will enshrine the military’s rule.

The NLD won elections in 1990 but the junta ignored the result and instead kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years. – Sapa-AFP