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Why Aung San Suu Kyi wants to keep sanctions on Burma

Some analysts warn that democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-sanctions strategy may lose steam as Burma relies on its Asian neighbors for trade and investment.

By Correspondent / February 22, 2011

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi (r.) greets members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) during a celebration to mark the 64th Union Day at its headquarters on Feb. 12, in Yangon, Myanmar. It was Suu Kyi's father, Gen. Aung San, the country's independence hero, who met with ethnic minority leader to sign the agreement that the holiday commemorates.

Khin Maung Win/AP

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Bangkok, Thailand

Three months after her release from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is back in the spotlight in Burma (Myanmar) over her support for Western sanctions, a stance that is increasing tensions between her political party and the military government.

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Ms. Suu Kyi emerged as a democracy leader during a popular uprising in 1988 that was later put down by the military. She has long been a thorn in the side of Burma’s ruling generals, who held elections in November for a new parliament that is dominated by a junta-backed party.

In 2007, a monk-led protest movement in several cities sparked by rising fuel prices met a violent end. In an interview last week with Canada’s Globe and Mail, Suu Kyi praised Egypt’s Army for refusing to fire on crowds during recent protests there. But she said Burmese people were unlikely to take to the streets as in Egypt, for now, given their own Army’s willingness to crack down.

"But on the other hand, one cannot say that the Burmese Army is always going to shoot at the people,” she told the Globe and Mail.

Burma’s media have blocked all news about Egypt and other revolts, according to analysts and diplomats.

The row over sanctions

Since her release in November, Suu Kyi has focused on rebuilding her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and has made few public speeches. She hasn’t traveled outside Rangoon, the former capital, to meet supporters, but has said she wants to use new media to reach Burmese youths.

The row over sanctions comes as Burma takes its first steps toward constitutional rule after decades of military dictatorship. Critics say the transition is a sham that keeps the military in control. Other observers argue that new power centers are emerging and represent a form of partial democracy.

The US government is among those applying economic and political sanctions to Burma over its human rights record, though it also favors diplomatic engagement. The European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have also imposed strict curbs on trade and development assistance.

Last month, opposition parties in the parliament called for an end to sanctions as a way of easing the economic burden on Burma, which ranks among the poorest countries in Asia and yet receives a fraction of the international aid spent in countries like Laos and Cambodia.

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