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US sanctions will not hurt us, says

Subject:       US sanctions will not hurt us, says Burmese junta

US sanctions will not hurt us, says Burmese junta
Bangkok, April 23: A US decision to clamp sanctions on
Burma is unlikely to hurt its economy which is
increasingly dependent on its Asian trading partners, a
Burmese official and analysts said on Wednesday. On
Tuesday, US secretary of state Madeleine Albright
announced a ban on new investment in Burma, blasting
the military regime for engineering a "state of large
scale repression. Many analysts say that the US
sanctions will have little bite given the small number
of American companies currently doing business in Burma
and will only open the door further for their Asian and
European competitors. Soe Myint, director general of
the planning department in Burma's ministry of energy,
said Burmese officials had already shrugged off the
sanctions. "We have been surviving without any
assistance from the US government for years, so I don't
think these sections will have any effect on the
Myanmar economy," he said. He said the impact would be
weakened because the sanctions did not cover
investments already in place, including a $1.2 billion
natural gas venture in which Unocal Corp is a major
partner. The project, under which natural gas will be
piped to Thailand from the Yadana fields in the Andaman
Sea is expected to be Rangoon's main foreign currency
spinner when it comes on line in the next few years. Mr
Soe Myint said Rangoon was counting on continued
interest in the Burmese economy from Asian companies
who were unrestrained by government meddling. "I
personally think that Myanmar can survive on the
strength of its own economy but we also have lots of
friends in Asean and in countries such as Korea. I
don't think we will have a problem surviving," he
added. Other analysts say that far from spurring other
countries to follow suit, the US sanctions could
illicit a knee-jerk reaction from Asean countries
already sensitive to interference in the affairs of
other countries. Asean which groups Brunei, Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and
Vietnam is expected to welcome Burma as a member later
this year despite the objections of the United Stares
and many European countries. "One effect you might see
from the sanctions is the shepherding of Burma into
Asean more quickly than expected," said Peter Brimble,
president of the Brooker Group Ltd, a Thai-based
business and policy research company. "Some Asean move
to put Asean in between a rock a hard place," he added.
The sanctions will also come as a blow to US companies
whose attempts to do business in Burma have been
hamstrung by a growing consumer backlash at home over
the Burmese junta's human rights record. Those
pressures have already prompted US companies such as
soft drink giant Pepsi Co., Apple Computers and Levis
to pull the plug on their Burmese investments in the
past year. The American Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok
warned last year that US companies would be the hardest
hit by an embargo and would only sit by as the slack
was taken up by their competitors from around the
region. California-based Unocal said in a statement on
Tuesday that it was "disappointed" over the "policy of
isolation and sanctions" chosen by the administration.