Myanmar's opposition says sanctions on junta work

The pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi endorsed Western sanctions against Myanmar on Tuesday, saying they hurt the authoritarian regime not ordinary citizens and implying it's too early to lift them.

For weeks, there have been indications that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was questioning her longtime support of sanctions. But a four-page report issued by her party Tuesday was the first clarification of her position and could temper any momentum to lift sanctions.

Suu Kyi had suggested after her recent release from years of house arrest that she might be open to an easing of the measures. Her comments raised interest in the West, which has long taken its cues from her and her party on the subject.

The report is bound to anger Myanmar's military rulers who have long sought to have the sanctions lifted on grounds that they hurt the people of Myanmar and have pushed the country deeper into poverty. They have trumpeted elections held in November as evidence of their commitment to democracy, but the polls were widely criticized as rigged to cement the junta's power.

The release coincided with the resumption of parliament in the remote capital of Naypyitaw following Friday's appointment of the country's new president, Thein Sein, who served as prime minister under the junta. His selection by parliament last week was seen as the latest example of the junta's tightening its grip on power.

"Recently, there have been calls for the removal of sanctions," said the report, which was based on the National League for Democracy's own research and consultation with economists. "It can be asserted that these measures do not hurt the public at large."

"Targeted sanctions serve as a warning that acts contrary to basic norms of justice and human rights cannot be committed with impunity even by authoritarian governments," said the report, which blamed the country's hardships on "misguided government policies," not sanctions.

The United States first imposed broad sanctions on Myanmar in 1988 after the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protests and subsequently tightened them, banning trade and American investment in Myanmar. Since then, the EU and other Western countries have added political and economic sanctions to punish the regime for its poor human rights record and failure to move toward democracy.

"The NLD calls for discussions with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia with a view to reaching agreement on when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment," the report said.

Suu Kyi's party boycotted November's election, the first in 20 years, calling it unfair and rigged in favor of the military's allies. The party won the previous elections in 1990 but was blocked at the time from taking power by the military.

Suu Kyi was detained for 15 of the last 21 years and released shortly after the election.

"We would urge the countries that are helping Myanmar's democratic movement to maintain their targeted sanctions," the party's vice chairman Tin Oo told reporters. "There is no tangible progress toward Myanmar's democratic reforms."