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Myanmar Deserves This Freeze Ruling

Subject: Myanmar Deserves This Freeze Ruling junta continues to oppress democratic forces

Los Angeles Times editorial, Thursday, 24 April 1997 (letters@xxxxxxxxxxx).

Myanmar Deserves This Freeze
Ruling junta continues to oppress democratic forces

Two years ago, when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in
Myanmar, she cautioned the West against giving too much credence to the
appearance of new political openness in the ruling military junta.  Wait and
see, she warned.

Indeed, today the leading opposition figure is once again detained at her
home.  That and the military's other recent acts of repression have prompted
Washington to impose a ban on new U.S. investment in the Southeast Asian
country, once known as Burma.

The sanctions may not have much practical effect, in that most U.S.
companies have pulled out except for a few energy producers, but the act
sends a necessary message.  The military is ignoring the will of the Burmese
people, who voted overwhelmingly in 1990 for Suu Kyi's party.

Under a law passed by Congress last year, President Clinton could invoke
sanctions if Myanmar engaged in "large scale repression" or detained Suu
Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
noted that Myanmar has repeatedly refused to engage in political dialogue.
Instead, opposition politicians have been arrested or kidnapped.

The junta, which has been waging a tourism campaign, blithely dismissed the
U.S. sanctions and denied it abused human rights.

Isolating Myanmar requires international pressure.  Last month, the European
Union revoked some trade preferences to Myanmar.  But leaders of the Assn.
of Southeast Asian Nations say they still plan to bring Myanmar into
membership in July.  U.S. oil companies have substantial projects in the
country.  One of them, California-based Unocal, said Wednesday it will forgo
some planned expansions.

Those who preach economic engagement in Myanmar similar to what Washington
practices with China and Indonesia ignore an important difference.  The
Burmese voted the militry out.  It is one thing to keep ties with a regime
that has not democratized, another to hold hands with a regime that has
crushed a democratic election.