Myanmar Deserves This Freeze


Two years ago, when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Myanmar, she cautioned the West against giving too much credence to the appearance of new political openness in the ruling military junta. Wait and see, she warned.

Indeed, today the leading opposition figure is once again detained at her home. That and the military’s other recent acts of repression have prompted Washington to impose a ban on new U.S. investment in the Southeast Asian country, once known as Burma.

The sanctions may not have much practical effect, in that most U.S. companies have pulled out except for a few energy producers, but the act sends a necessary message. The military is ignoring the will of the Burmese people, who voted overwhelmingly in 1990 for Suu Kyi’s party.


Under a law passed by Congress last year, President Clinton could invoke sanctions if Myanmar engaged in “large scale repression” or detained Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright noted that Myanmar has repeatedly refused to engage in political dialogue. Instead, opposition politicians have been arrested or kidnapped.

The junta, which has been waging a campaign to promote tourism, blithely dismissed the American sanctions and denied it abused human rights.

Isolating Myanmar requires international pressure. Last month, the European Union revoked some trade preferences to Myanmar. But leaders of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations say they still plan to bring Myanmar into membership in July. U.S. oil companies have substantial projects in the country. One of them, California-based Unocal, said Wednesday it will forgo some planned expansions.

Those who preach economic engagement in Myanmar similar to what Washington practices with China and Indonesia ignore an importance difference: The Burmese voted the military out. It is one thing to keep ties with a regime that has not democratized, another to hold hands with a regime that has crushed a democratic election.