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Disappointment At ASEAN's Cancellation Of Briefing

By Claudia Blume
Hong Kong

Burmese Opposition Groups Disappointed by ASEAN's Cancellation of UN Envoy Briefing

A Burmese political activist says opposition groups are disappointed by ASEAN's giving in to Burma's military government. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian nations, who are meeting in Singapore, agreed to the demands of the Burmese generals and called off a highly anticipated briefing on Burma by an envoy of the United Nations.

Khin Ohmar is a former Burmese student activist and the Thailand-based coordinator of the Asia-Pacific People's Partnership on Burma. Speaking at Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club on Tuesday, she said ASEAN's decision to cancel U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari's briefing on Burma was a huge disappointment for the Burmese opposition inside and outside the country.

"What is surprising is that ASEAN still continues to allow this to happen," she said. "ASEAN still continue the Burmese take over their agenda. We thought at this point, after all what happened - we thought, they supported the efforts by the U.N., they are completely backing Mr. Gambari's efforts at the moment."

Burma's Prime Minister Thein Sein had told the other ASEAN leaders that the situation in his country was a domestic affair and that Burma was fully capable of handling the situation by itself. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the host of the summit, said he did not want the Burma issue to dominate the meeting of regional leaders.

Ohmar says Burmese opposition groups advocate targeted sanctions and an arms embargo as the best ways to bring about change in Burma. She says the international community, including ASEAN countries, need to impose sanctions on all sectors that hurt the ruling generals directly - such as the lucrative gem and teak trade and international banking transactions.

"The targeted sanctions will definitely work," she said. "We have seen it already work with the banking sanctions, transaction sanctions from the U.S. recently imposed, with the generals' assets in Singapore. It has already been hit."

Urged by the United States, Singaporean banks are reported to have been distancing themselves from Burmese officials in recent weeks. Singapore, the Burmese generals' favorite destination for shopping and medical treatment, is believed to have been the offshore banking center for the country's leaders.

Ohmar says she has heard reports that Burma's generals are now trying to move their banking to Hong Kong. She is currently in the city to investigate those reports.


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