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Pro-democracy Movement in Burma Divides over Western Sanctions

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Download In Burma there is a split in the pro-democracy movement about Western economic sanctions.

Since 1990 Western countries imposed sanctions on Burma due to the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

But now some pro-democracy leaders argue it’s time to lift them.

Our reporter Moemoe has been speaking with them. He has this report from the Burmese economic capital, Yangon.

Recently the largest pro-democracy group the National League for Democracy reaffirmed its support for the Western economic blockade.

Win Htain is a former political prisoner and senior member of NLD.

“I am sure that the targeted sanctions to the junta and its cronies is effective. If not they wouldn’t need to fight against them. The government always criticizes economic sanctions in the newspapers and state owned TV channels as propaganda. As you know, the families of the generals are very rich. They are not contented with visiting and shopping in nearby places like Bangkok or Singapore. So they want to go to the US and Europe but they can’t get visas because of the targeted sanction.”

But not everyone agrees with them.

Some opposition parties that took part in the recent national election believe reconciliation will only happen if the sanctions are lifted first.

Thein Tin Aung is an ex-student leader. He is now the President of the Union Democratic Party.

“We always tell the West that they should help us achieve reconciliation in another way. Sanctions are not working here. We always tell the US and EU this and make our government know our attitude about the sanctions, so that they know we are not fighting them and are not using sanctions as a tool.”

Burma is now one of the poorest nations in the world under the authoritarian regime. The unemployment rate is very high.

The anti-sanction group in the pro-democracy movement argues the sanctions are impacting on the poor.

Thein Tin Aung from the Union Democratic party again.

“Sanctions can be effective only in a democratic country because in that system the pain of people is the government’s pain. In an authoritarian state like our country, the government doesn’t care how poor the people are and if they are starving.”

When the sanctions were first enforced thousands of Burmese workers lost their jobs, particularly in fishing and garment industries.

But while the people struggle the ruling junta is getting richer.

This is because state-owned corporations and military linked businesses are doing good business with neighboring Asia countries.

Neighboring Thailand depends heavily on Burma's offshore natural gas and hydroelectric dams. And China is planning to build a natural gas pipeline from the west coast of Burma into western China.

20 year old Thiri is from a youth volunteer group based in Yangon. In a coffee shop she tells me that the sanctions mean nothing.

“The Burmese military-led government will be in power until the Chinese impose sanctions on them. I think United States and EU don’t understand the mindsets of the generals. The government doesn’t care about Western sanctions because they have trade partner China.”

But the NLD says it’s too early to lift the sanctions while there are still human rights violations by the army in the country.

Win Htain says when the sanctions were first imposed the government did suffer.

He says now the sanctions need to be more targeted.

“Generally, there are two types of sanction - general and targeted. The government doesn’t get pain so much due to general economic sanction. For example, in garment industry, the military junta suffered the effectiveness of sanctions in the initial years. But, later, the Chinese factories are growing more and more and now, the garment industry is the third largest source of the foreign money for the government.”

Targeted sanctions, he says, are the travel ban on the Military junta and the black-list of military linked companies.

The NLD says these are having an impact.

But Thein Thin Aung believes the pro-democracy movement needs to gain the trust of the military.

Fighting directly with them is not working, he says.

“Now, there will be a new constitutional government and we are keeping our attitude about anti-sanctions. We are not saying to lift sanctions one-sidedly; we always said that the new government or the current one should honestly perform to get a good report in human rights and democracy issues. We are campaigning to lift sanctions not only for easing of military junta.”

The majority of Burmese people are not politically aware.

20 year old Thiri says people don’t know the effect of the sanctions.

“The people are not educated because they are poor. The people are poor because they are not educated. It’s like a cycle. There are so many crimes and a lack of moral ethics.”

Under the sanctions the Burmese people cannot benefit from Western investment.

But if they are lifted the question is... Where will the money from the West go … to the people or the generals?



1)deteriorating: memburuk

2)reaffirmed: menegaskan lagi

 3)starving: kelaparan

 4)imposed: memaksakan

5)contented: senang, puas

6)enforced: diteggakkan, diberlakukan

7) suffer: menderita

8)violations: pelanggaran

9)one-sidedly: sepihak

10)tool: alat


1) When did Western countries impose sanctions and why?

2) What do opposition parties think about the sanctions?

3) What impact do these sanctions have on the poor?

4) Which two neighbouring countries are dependent on Burma? What do  they want from that authoritarian country?

5) Why don't most Burmese know about the effect of these sanctions?

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 01 March 2011 20:17 )