/ 20 August 2009

Burma junta urges West to lift sanctions

Army-ruled Burma urged Western countries on Thursday to lift economic sanctions and allow the country to modernise and achieve its democratic goals.

A commentary in three official newspapers, which serve as mouthpieces for the reclusive junta, praised ”visionary” United States officials who were critical of sanctions, which it said would not bring the downfall of the government.

”The more anti-government groups exercise economic sanctions as a means to put pressure on the government, the further the goal of democracy aspired by the people will divert from its route,” the newspapers said.

It urged ”all political forces to give up the tactic of economic sanctions and collectively open the golden door to a modern, developed and peaceful democratic nation”.

The comments came days after a visit by Jim Webb, a US senator who favours engagement with the generals. On Tuesday state media hailed his trip as a success.

Webb was the first US official to visit Burma in more than a decade and met both junta supremo Than Shwe and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was returned to her home on August 11 to serve 18 months’ house arrest for breaking a security law.

Webb was allowed to leave with American John Yettaw, whose visit to Suu Kyi’s home in May had led to her latest conviction and who had himself been sentenced to seven years’ hard labour.

”Fortune has somewhat smiled on [Burma’s] people as there are several visionary officials in the US’s top political area like Senator Webb,” the commentary said.

The papers said the collapse of the regime was ”far from a possibility” because trade with its neighbours had increased and the country had prospered in the past two decades of army rule.

The US and European Union have used sanctions to try to force the regime to carry out reforms, but critics say Burma’s thriving trade with China, India and Thailand have limited their effect.

Webb met Suu Kyi for 45 minutes on Friday and told reporters later that she was ”not opposed” to the lifting of some sanctions, but he refused to elaborate.

Burma plans to hold multi-party elections next year, which critics have dismissed as a sham to entrench nearly half a century of army rule. — Reuters