Suu Kyi letter backs the end of sanctions on Burmese junta

Members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy sell portraits of the detained pro-democracy leader during the party's 21st anniversary celebrations

Members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy sell portraits of the detained pro-democracy leader during the party's 21st anniversary celebrations

Democracy leader seeks meetings with generals and diplomats to ‘ease suffering’

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia correspondent

In an important shift in her stance, the imprisoned Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has offered to work with the military junta to help lift the international sanctions imposed on her country.

In a letter addressed to senior general Than Shwe, Ms Suu Kyi has sought permission to meet foreign ambassadors from those countries that have imposed sanctions to better understand their reasons. She has also requested to meet with her party officials to be updated on the effect of sanctions on the Burmese people.

“In order to work effectively for having the sanctions on Myanmar lifted, I need to understand the sanctions imposed on Myanmar, how much the country has suffered … and the attitudes of the countries that imposed these sanctions,” wrote the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

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Previously the NLD has said the issue of sanctions was a matter for the countries that have imposed them. Ms Suu Kyi also suggested several years ago that it was “not the time” for tourists to visit the country. But earlier this month, the Nobel laureate supported the decision by the Obama administration to push for closer engagement with the junta, while maintaining sanctions.

Speaking last night from Rangoon, Nyan Win, an NLD spokesman, confirmed the offer to the regime represented a change in the leader’s position. “She wants to lift the sanctions but she also wants to know about them,” he said.

“She wants to know about the consequences of the sanctions and the opinions of the countries that have imposed them. If she gets that information she can help to lift the sanctions.”

Activists have long been divided on the issue of sanctions. Some groups, such as the Burma Campaign UK, have adopted a firm line, arguing that sanctions – if properly imposed – could be an effective form of pressure on the senior members of the junta. Others have called for greater engagement with the country and believe that positive change is more likely to result from increasing trade and tourism. Many point out that with countries such as China, India and Thailand ignoring a boycott, existing sanctions are rendered worthless.

Ms Suu Kyi, who said in her letter that she had conveyed her desire to work towards the end of sanctions when she spoke with special branch police earlier this month, has asked to meet US, EU and Australian diplomats. These countries have imposed a series of sanctions that include the freezing of trade assets and a ban on travel by senior Burmese officials.

The British embassy in Rangoon said that efforts since the summer to arrange a meeting with Ms Suu Kyi have “been met with silence”.

The letter: Suu Kyi’s price for co-operation

*Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to seek co-operation with the military junta is a major policy shift.

It was spelled out in a letter to Burma’s military strongman, senior general Than Shwe, which was made public by the executive committee of the party she leads, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

*In the letter she outlines the three requirements for her effective co-operation. These are:

“A: To have in-depth knowledge of all the sanctions imposed on Burma.

B: To come to full grips with the extent of the consequences suffered by Burma as a result of sanctions.

C: To ascertain the attitudes and opinions of foreign governments which have imposed sanctions on Burma.”

*Ms Suu Kyi also said that in order to meet these requirements she should be allowed to hold talks with foreign missions.

In particular she named the mission heads of the United States, the European Union and Australia.

*The regime may, however, ignore her initiative.

General Than Shwe is said to detest Ms Suu Kyi, and bans all mention of her name.

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