A bipartisan report sponsored by the Asia Society was released today, warning the Obama administration that engagement with the junta could be used to legitimize the sham elections being held in Burma later this year. The report, titled “Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma: Options for US Policy,” was created by the Burma Task Force and co-chaired by retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and Henrietta Fore, former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. On Wednesday, March 31, the U.S. Institute of Peace sponsored the Asia Society to hold a panel discussion about the newly-released report.
The Burma Task Force supported U.S. officials’ announcements that they would not remove current economic sanctions against Burma until all political prisoners are released, democracy begins to take shape and the government treats its people better. The report also urged the Obama administration to appoint a special envoy on U.S. policy towards Burma, which Congress recommended in the 2008 Tom Lantos Block Burma Jade Act. Nine senior U.S. senators also sent a letter to the president calling for the appointment for an envoy and for the administration to strengthen banking sanctions against the junta under the Jade Act. The letter urged the Treasury Department to use a law to crack down on US bank accounts linked to Burma’s leading generals and foreign banks doing business with the junta.
At the panel this morning, questions and concerns were raised over the recent decision by the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) to boycott the elections. What will become of the NLD now that it will not register to contend the elections? What will become of the democracy movement inside Burma when the NLD ceases to exist as a legal entity as stipulated by the controversial election laws? A senior member of the NLD, U Win Tin has warned that the military junta will likely crack down on the soon-to-be dissolved party. “Our movements will be very much limited when we don’t have a party. If we make more movements and stand against [the junta], they will declare our party an unlawful association,” he said. “We are not working just only for winning the election and holding power. We are working for abolishing and dismantling the entire military dictatorship. So they will certainly come down harshly against us.” Despite these ominous warnings, there is hope that the NLD can continue to function without becoming an underground party. Zomi National Congress (ZNC) Chairman Pu Cin Sian Thang said, “Our ZNC party has been banned since 1993. We don’t have a right to erect our party signboard and we can’t distribute our party literature. But we can continue our movement.”