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Burmese Military Government Calls For Dialoge With U.S. - 2003-02-20


Burma's military government, under the threat of fresh economic sanctions, has called on the United States to enter into dialogue on the country's political future.

Burma's military government has invited the United States to enter a dialogue into the country's future economic and political development.

In a statement issued Thursday, Burma said it would welcome American advice on how to make the transition to a stable democracy.

The move comes after the United States said it may consider more sanctions if Burma does not speed up the pace of political reconciliation.

The Burmese statement expressed disappointed at this idea - brought up last week by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Lorne Craner. The military government says it believes "sanctions, in short, do not solve problems; they only make them worse."

Western diplomats in Rangoon tell VOA the statement is a change in the government's usual stance of rebutting international criticism over its human rights and political reform record.

The United States and European Union have maintained tough economic sanctions since the military government refused to handover power to the opposition National League for Democracy when the party won elections in 1990.

The Burmese government entered UN brokered but secretive talks with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi two years ago. However, the NLD and foreign officials have expressed frustration at the slow pace and failure to address concrete political issues.

Burma's ruling generals have said they will consider a slow path to democracy so as not to destabilize the country - but have given no details or timetable.

Burma expert Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, a professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, says this offer for U.S. participation is cautious good news.

"To me, such an invitation would expose the regime to some kind of discussion and that of course will lead to some kind of promise which they have to (meet)," Mr. Chaiyachoke said.

But Debbie Stothard, a spokeswoman for the human rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network in Burma, remains skeptical about the government's motives.

"The regime itself has not been able to deliver the most basic reforms and the talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime have definitely stalled. So its clear to the international community that the regime has refused to move in the direction of dialogue with their own democracy movement," Ms. Stothard said.

The threat of fresh economic sanctions come as Burma is facing a potential banking and financial crisis. Earlier this week, the Central Bank in Rangoon banned money transfers and limited bank withdrawals to stem a run on deposits after rumors of possible bank failures.

Burma's economy ranks as one of the world's poorest after 40 years of economic mismanagement by the military leadership.

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