U.S. asks Asian nations to help isolate Myanmar

July 25, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The bloody backwater of Burma was the latest focus of President Bush's crusade for a "new world order" yesterday as the United States asked Asian nations to join in isolating the country's military dictatorship.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday that he was "dismayed" by violations of human rights and "blatant" rejection by the government of Burma, now Myanmar, of its overwhelming defeat in elections last year.

"We regret that a country with such great potential for economic advancement and cultural achievement has shut itself off from the society of nations by its political brutality and economic disintegration," Mr. Baker told the Association of South East Asian Nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

He contrasted Burmese repression with economic and political growth in other nations of the region and said, "When people gain economic freedom, they hunger as well for increased political freedom."

A large percentage of the world's opium originates in the "Golden Triangle," where Myanmar borders Thailand and Laos. The United States has been seeking to suppress the drug trade there for years.

The ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia -- have close trading links with Myanmar and would cause it particular damage by any joint action.

"Their policy so far has been one of economic opportunism," a Washington expert on the region said of the six ASEAN countries. "They regard Burma as being in their bailiwick. It is time they recognized there is much more at stake here than that, both in their relationship with us and with the Europeans, who have taken the lead in this."

Earlier this week, the State Department announced it would not renew its textile agreement with Myanmar, which lapsed in December and which the Myanmar government has sought to have renewed. The United States imported $9 million worth of Myanmar textiles last year, half of that country's trade with the United States.

The U.S. sanctions are based on the refusal of Myanmar's leader, Gen. Saw Maung, to accept his defeat in democratic elections last year, end human rights violations and curb the free flow of narcotics from his nation.

The trade sanctions followed earlier U.S. bans on arms sales and non-humanitarian aid, and opposition to loans to Myanmar through international financial institutions.

They also coincided with the second anniversary of the house arrest of Myanmar's main opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won 80 percent of the seats in the new Parliament in a May 1990 election landslide that has been ignored by the ruling military.

The Bush administration's tougher line has been encouraged by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

Mr. Moynihan recently held up the nomination of David Lambertson as U.S. ambassador to Thailand until he was sure that the Bush administration would move against Myanmar textiles under the Customs and Trade Act of 1990.

"The situation in Burma is drastic," Mr. Moynihan said this week. "The action taken this week is overdue and important. A complete trade embargo ought to be our goal. Our goal also ought to be a multinational trade embargo."

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