US Senate panel studies new ways to press Myanmar

Taken from Reuters, October 11, 2007

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee is weighing measures to press for democratic change in Myanmar, including an arms embargo and prosecuting its leaders in an international criminal court, a senior aide said on Thursday.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon present draft legislation, after the former Burma crushed pro-democracy protests last month, said Keith Luse, a senior committee staff member.

“There’s a thought to encourage the equivalent of a six-party process within the region to include Burma, China, India, Russia, Japan, ASEAN and perhaps other countries, understanding that the Burmese leaders might initially boycott,” he said, drawing a parallel to the six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations with North Korea.

ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that includes Myanmar as a member.

“Leaders of a country friendly to Burma could enter the scene to serve as broker to negotiate safe passage and arrange exile for the generals out of the country while the U.N. would provide a stabilizing presence as Burma transitions to a civilian democratic government,” Luse said.

Other proposals being studied were an arms embargo, more U.S. sanctions targeting Myanmar’s leaders, their families and business partners and appointing a special U.S. envoy.

Luce told a forum conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank, that senior U.S. Senators including Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Indiana Republican Richard Lugar were strongly committed to action on Myanmar.

U.S. experts said the junta had discredited itself at home and around the world by shooting Buddhist monks.

But one analyst warned that a country impoverished and ruined by 45 years of military rule was ill-prepared for democracy.

“It will still be many years that there will be a military government in some form or another,” said Priscilla Clapp, a retired diplomat who served as top U.S. envoy in Myanmar from 1999-2002.

With the army as Myanmar’s only cohesive institution, she said, the country would not see an ideal transition to full-blown democracy.

Bridget Welsh, Southeast Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said experience in other countries indicated that it was important to “split the military as an institution.”

“When you use targeted sanctions, you don’t treat the military as a complete monolithic institution; you actually focus on specific individuals, as opposed to others” to foster jealousy and schisms among generals, she said.