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Divided community - continued dilemma over Myanmar

Updated On: Jan 27, 2006

The situation in Myanmaris a cause of international worry.

Its military regime stands accused of state-sponsored killings, torture and rape. Also, not only do illicit drugs grown and manufactured in Burmawreak havoc onIndiaThailandChinaand elsewhere, an unchecked HIV/AIDS pandemic follows drug routes emanating from Burma. Thus far, it has been slapped with sanctions by the US, but the effectiveness of the sanctions have been questioned.

No Asian nation has fully supported U.S.sanctions, not even democratic allies like South KoreaThailandis the biggest buyer of Burma's exports, and recently opened a new "friendship bridge" across the SaiRiverthat divides the two. "We expect closer relationships with Burmanot only in trade but also in transportation and tourism," Thai foreign ministry spokesman Apichart Phetcharatana said.

As a result of Asian investment, the junta is richer and more entrenched in power than ever. The generals' "principal concern is to ensure their survival, and they have enough money to do that," says Robert Templer, Asiaprogram director of the International Crisis Group in New York. The natural resources, including natural gas which ChinaIndiaand Thailandare keen to exploit have made it easier for the generals to remain in power. "The ability of sanctions to limit investment in energy is probably negligible," says Andrew Symon, an energy-industry specialist at the Instituteof Southeast Asian Studiesin Singapore.

Nonetheless, Indonesiaseems ready to take firmer action. "If necessary, we should gradually lower the status of our diplomats in Yangon," a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) Djoko Susilo said at a seminar organized by the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a pro democracy group inMyanmarwith their office at the UN headquarters.

However, regional and national support within Indonesiais necessary for real effect. Djoko said the issue on Myanmarhas cropped up as a discourse in the parliaments of ASEAN member countries. "But we need to get more support, as I think many Indonesian legislators have no interest in the Myanmarese issue." A common attitude of ASEAN parliaments is needed to suppress their respective governments in responding to the violation of human rights and ignorance of democracy in the neighboring country.

Despite the seemingly ineffectiveness of the sanctions, proponents believe that sanctions are the only way to deal with Burma, as with apartheid South Africa. Moreover, Burma's democracy movement insists that the populace stands behind sanctions, but it is hard to find much support among ordinary Burmese. "We want pressure from the international community, but we don't want sanctions," says a Rangoon-based Burmese journalist. "Our people are very, very poor."

Sources:

Editorial: Politics fuel Burmadrug tradeThe Nation, 26 January 2006

Time for Indonesiato Take Firm Action against MyanmarAntara, 25 January 2006

Thailandand Burmaopen new bridge across borderThe Nation/AFP, 22 January 2006

Thai-Myanmar border communities prepare for avian fluXinhua, 25 January 2006

Going NowhereTime, 22 January 2006

Sanctions are the most effective weapon against Burma's military regimeTime, 22 January 2006