East Timor President Calls for Review of Burma Sanctions Policy

www.irrawaddy.org, 12 January 2009


East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta criticized the West’s sanction policy on Burma on Sunday, saying that the country’s people should not be punished for “the perceived sins of their leaders.”

Ramos-Horta said at a talk in Bangkok that the United States and European Union should review their policy of economic sanctions against Burma’s military junta, according to Deutsche Presse Agentur.

The talk, “Is long lasting peace an attainable dream?” was held at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand and was organized by the International Peace Foundation.

“If we aren’t pragmatic about it there will be no solution [in Burma] in the immediate term or long term,” Ramos-Horta said. “We cannot further punish a collectivity of people because of the perceived sins of their leaders.”

Citing the example of other countries in the region, he added that no civilian government in Burma could survive without the support of the military.

“You look at the transition in Thailand, the transition in the Philippines and Indonesia,” he said. “The military have remained part of society, part of the state and part of the country.”

This was not the first time that Ramos-Horta has talked openly about his anti-sanctions stand. In an interview with The Irrawaddy in February 2004, he urged Burmese pro-democracy activists and their supporters to rethink their sanctions strategy “out of moral concern for the poorest in Myanmar [Burma].”

“I am always ambivalent about economic sanctions. In certain circumstances, I believe that financial economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation are the moral equivalent of waging a war,” he said.

In July 2005, during a visit to Burma, Ramos-Horta reportedly conveyed a similar message in a letter to Burma’s iconic pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. In the letter, he described the sanctions policy as “counter productive.”

Despite his disagreement with the sanctions policy, Ramos-Horta has been outspoken in his support for Suu Kyi. In July 2003, he condemned an attack on her and her supporters by pro-junta thugs in northern Burma.

“The recent attacks on Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, and her supporters were orchestrated by hardliners in Burma’s military regime who fear her enduring popularity and the national reconciliation process supported by other, more tolerant, members of the ruling junta,” he said.

In his interview with The Irrawaddy, Ramos-Horta said that sanctions should be suspended if Suu Kyi, who was placed under house arrest after the attack, was released.

Ramos-Horta is recognized as a hero of East Timor’s independence struggle and, like Suu Kyi, is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He left East Timor just three days before Indonesian troops invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. The occupation ended in 1999 following a national referendum, and the country became a sovereign state in May 2002. More than 200,000 were killed in the conflict.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s new premier said that he wanted to see change in Burma but said that his country would take a different approach from Western nations. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said, “The goals of Western countries and the countries in the region for Myanmar [Burma] are not different – we all want to see some changes.”

Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya met Burma’s deputy foreign minister Kyaw Thu in Bangkok. The detail of the meeting was not published but it was believed that they both discussed ongoing relations of two countries.