Suu Kyi changes stance on Myanmar sanctions

A Myanmar pro-democracy supporter displays a poster outside the United Nations in New York.
Myanmar’s imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is prepared to work with the nation’s military leaders in order to get economic sanctions against the country lifted, a spokesman for her political party said Friday.

Previously, Suu Kyi has staunchly opposed lifting any sanctions against the current regime in Myanmar. But now, Suu Kyi has drafted a direct letter to Myanmar’s military leader, Senior General Than Shwe, in which she says she will cooperate on getting the sanctions lifted, said her spokesman and lawyer U Nyan Win. He said he spent about an hour working with her on the letter describing her “new thinking” toward sanctions. The letter will be officially submitted to the military leader in few days. Suu Kyi wants to know how many sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar and how many of them are having a negative impact on the people, Nyan Win said. In the drafted letter, she also said she wants to hear the opinions of other countries through their ambassadors based in Myanmar. Her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won the last election in 1989, has not decided whether it will participate in the election next year. Suu Kyi wants to know from her fellow NLD members whether the party should take part, Nyan Win said. Suu Kyi’s attempt to reach out to the military junta comes as the United States announced a new shift in its policy toward Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Wednesday that the United States will try to engage directly with Myanmar’s leaders without abandoning its existing sanctions on the southeast Asian country. Suu Kyi said Thursday that she accepted the new shift in U.S. policy but stressed that any U.S. engagement must also happen with the opposition, her spokesman said. In announcing the shift in policy, Clinton acknowledged that the sanctions may not be working as planned.

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“We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy, but by themselves, they have not produced the results that had been hoped for on behalf of the people of Burma,” Clinton said after discussing the issue at the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Clinton said her announcement is part of a policy review announced in February, and she would provide more details in the coming days. That policy review was slowed down in May when Suu Kyi was placed under fresh house arrest, according to a senior State Department official who talked to reporters on Wednesday after Clinton spoke. The official spoke on the condition that he was not named. Clinton stressed that the United States is not changing its goals with regards to Myanmar. “We want credible, democratic reform; a government that respond to the needs of the Burmese people; immediate, unconditional release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; serious dialogue with the opposition and minority ethnic groups,” she said. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest after John Yettaw, an American man, swam uninvited to Suu Kyi’s home in Yangon earlier this year. She is appealing her sentence, and a court in Yangon is expected to decide on that appeal next week.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest there for 14 of the past 20 years. The United States currently has an embassy and a charge d’affaires in Yangon, and Myanmar has a top diplomat in Washington.