The election of the new Labour government may prove a good omen for Burma’s democracy movement. Today as the British Ambassador hand delivered a birthday greeting to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the new Foreign Secretary, the Government issued a statement detailing the Government’s new policy on trade promotion towards Burma.
In answer to a Parliamentary Question, Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett said “the Government will not provide any financial support to companies for trade missions to Burma or for trade promotion activities within Burma until there is progress towards democratic reform and respect for human rights in Burma.”
Despite continuing to provide routine advice to companies looking at Burma, the Government “will also make clear wherever possible the present realities in Burma, including the political and human rights situation and the state of the economy. It will also draw to businessmen’s attention statements by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy leaders discouraging trade and investment in Burma.”
The Government is looking to persuade EU partners to follow their lead during meetings scheduled over the next weeks, culminating in the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on 26 June. However discussions have so far failed to produce a consensus of opinion on the issue.
The Burma Action Group UK see today’s move by the new Labour Government as an encouraging first step. In addition the announcement does not preclude introduction of further more punitive measures and discussions in this regard are in progress. In an interview on 22 May, 1997 Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett said “Sanctions may well be an option at some time during our discussions”.
Yvette Mahon, Co-ordinator of the Burma Action Group said “Pre-election the Labour Party lent their support to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her call for the imposition of full economic sanctions against Burma. The Burma Action Group UK are hopeful that today’s announcement is simply the first step on a road leading to the fulfillment of that pledge. Britain has today sent a firm signal of growing world resolve to isolate Burma’s brutal military regime. “
According to the U.S. State department, Great Britain is the third largest investor in Burma. As an essential next step the Burma Action Group UK would like to see the Government following the recent American example, by announcing that it will impose a ban on all new investment in Burma by British companies and individuals, and that it will lobby for an EU-wide initiative in this regard.
We further encourage the Foreign Secretary to ensure that Burma is on the agenda for discussion at the upcoming G7 meeting in Denver, and that Britain continues to advance a critical attitude towards Burma at forthcoming EU-ASEAN meetings despite the recent decision by ASEAN to admit Burma to the grouping this July.