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           BY V. JAYANTH
VIENTIANE (Laos), April 25. As expected, Myanmar and
its Southeast Asian neighbours have conveniently
brushed aside the economic sanctions announced by the
U.S. against the military junta in Myanmar.

Three days after Washington's announcement, it is
becoming clear that there are no major supporters for
this move to isolate or punish the State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC), as the junta calls itself.

The only groups to welcome it are the opposition
National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader, Ms.
Aung San Suu Kyi, called for these sanctions, and the
exiled political and student groups who have been
fighting from abroad for the restoration of democracy
in their country.

Known allies of the U.S. Japan and Australia have
clarified that their policy on Myanmar was already in
place and they need to do nothing to change it right
now. Tokyo had taken the position that its help and
programmes in Yangon were meant to benefit the Burmese
people and not the junta. And Canberra explained that
it already had restrictions in dealing with the SLORC
and its economic dealings with Yangon were very

>From Southeast Asia, the first and categorical voice
came from the outspoken Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad. He dismissed the sanctions with
characteristic disdain and declared that it would in no
way affect. Asean's move to admit Myanmar into its
fold. But there was no official response from other
Asean leaders or countries, except for Thailand, where
the Foreign Ministry said Asean was evaluating the
preparedness of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to gain
entry into the group. The sanctions by Washington, it
said had nothing to do with the region.

Asean officials and Western diplomats I spoke to both
in Laos and Bangkok make one thing clear the divergence
of views between the U.S. and Southeast Asia in
handling the problems with KMyanmar. "They have decided
to puruse their respective ways, while continuing to
exchange notes on progress," they explain.

In Bangkok, the Government and the Foreign Ministry,
are gearing for a visit by the Prime Minister, Gen,
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, to Yangon next week. A team of
Thai officials had just returned from Myanmar and
another delegation from Malaysia was also due there

"The assessment of Myanmar is continuing and Asean's
decision on admitting the three countries will be based
on their preparedness to join the group  and meet the
obligations. There are no other norms or regulations.
Any new member must two basic agreements to accept the
Asean rules and regulations and to integrate with the
Asean Free Trade Area (Afta)_ regime," a Thai official
said over telephone.

European diplomats here said Washington could have been
guided more by its "domestic compulsions and high moral
grounds" than of the basic ground realities. "They know
that sanctions cannot work in this case and American
industry and trade are already expressing concern at
this move."

Unocal, one of the major U.S. firms  visiting in
Myanmar, had already expressed "disappointment" at the
decision to impose sanctions. Since it was not a
retrospective move, it would not affect commitments
already made, but rule out any further involvement in
new projects.

This U.S. giant is pumping $1.2 millions into a gas
pipeline project from Myanmar to Thailand, and is part
of a consortium investing in the controversial Yadana
gas project.

Its Chairman, Mr. Roger Beach, who was in Bangkok, when
Washington announced the sanctions, said "They hurt
people, not the regimes." He said it would affect
American industry and business and the existing
sanctions by the U.S. curtailed exports by at least 20
per cent.

One of Myanmar's top leaders. Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt,
Secretary of Slorc was quoted as saying that there was
nothing for the regime to reconsider. He said, "We are
walking a straight line" and would continue to do so."

"Officials in Yangon have taken the line that the U.S.
decision was more "political and domestic" than
"economic" or "international". Since the Clinton
administration was unable to do anything about human
rights violations in China, it decided to play that
card on Myanmar, just to keep the pressure groups and
human rights lobbies happy, they argue.

In Laos, the main concern seems to be that the problems
with Cambodia and Myanmar should not delay its entry
into Asean. The internal political squabbles in
neighbouring Cambodia are threatening stability and law
and order in the Kingdom, while the military regime in
Myanmar is attracting more flak as it prepares to join

When asked about his reaction, the Laos ViceForeign
Minister, Mr. Phongsavat Boupha, said "We have nothing
to comment on. It is entirely Asean's decision when
they want to admit Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. I think
they are competent to decide and make their own

As far as the Lao's Government was concerned, he said
we are continuing with the preparations and they go on.
I think we are ready, though some more work needs to be
done. We have to prepare four lists of goods and
commodities for the AFTA the inclusion, exclusion,
temporary exclusion and sensitive lists. Our inclusion
list of about 600 items is ready, where the tariff is
already 5 per cent or less. We are working on the rest.

The Minister explained that membership of Asean
entailed a lot of financial commitments one time, as
well as recurring. Laos needed to train more officials
in English because there were about 280 Asean-related
meetings every year. Participating in them also meant
recurring costs. But Laos was convinced that
integrating with Asean was in the long term interests
of the region, for its political stability and economic

Analysts say Asean would have to balance its regional
and economic concerns in dealing with Myanmar,
alongside its security partnership and reliance on the
U.S. for peace and stability in the Asia Pacific
region. PTI reports;

Commenting on the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton's
decision earlier this week to ban any further
investments in Myanmar till it comes out with a better
record of human rights, Ms. Suu Kyi said that given the
nature of investment targeted, the sanctions "will not
affect the people in general."

"We are against any investment which creates a gap
between the rice and the poor, which helps only
privileged few," the National League for Democracy
(NLD) leader told a news conference held at the house
of another NLD leader.

The Nobel peace laureate, who is Myanmar's most vocal
champion for advocating economic sanctions to resist
the ruling junta's repression. said there had been "no
let-up of repression by the authorities on the
The United States ranks as the fourth largest investor
in Myanmar.

Ms. Suu Kyi's NLD won the 1990 elections but has been
barred from taking up government by the ruling State
Law and Order Restoration Council which has imprisoned
a number of party activists to throttle democratic

News and Information Bureau All Burma Students League.(END