Opposition leaders on Thursday expressed doubt that a US offer of economic investment in Burma in return for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from prison would lead to the pro-democracy leader’s freedom.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday in Phuket, Thailand, that the US would expand relations with Burma if the military government released opposition leader Suu Kyi, who is now on trial.
“If she [Suu Kyi] were released, that would open up opportunities, at least for my country, to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma. But it is up to the Burmese leadership,” Clinton said while attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Burmese political opposition leaders urged the military regime to consider the offer as a way to encourage national reconciliation.
Khin Maung Swe, a spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that Clinton’s statement shows how much the international community supports the release of the detained opposition leader, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. If the Burmese generals followed up on the US offer, it would be a win-win situation with both Burma and the US benefiting from better economic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries, said Khin Maung Swe.
“The Burmese generals should consider this carefully,” he said.
He said regional leaders should not only talk but also take actions to bring the Burmese regime to the “table of negotiation.”
Win Tin, the most prominent Burmese opposition politician after Suu Kyi, told The Irrawaddy that the Clinton’s statement displayed the weakness of US policy on Burma.
“What about reconciliation dialogue, the election [in 2010] and ethnic issues?” Win Tin asked. “Don’t they know that they would detain her again?”
Win Tin himself spent 19 years in prison and was unexpectedly released late last year.
Chan Htun, a Rangoon-based, veteran politician and former ambassador to China, said Clinton’s statement was positive.
“I would like to urge the Burmese generals to seriously consider the future of the country and cooperate with the offer,” Chan Htun said. “But, that’s only my wish. The Burmese regime will do whatever it wants and will listen to nobody.”
He said he doesn’t believe Burma’s No 1 general, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, will consider the offer.
A prominent Mon politician, Nai Ngwe Thein, who is vice president (1) of the Mon National Democratic Front in Mon State in southern Burma, said, “It is a good offer. But, I don’t think they [the generals] will follow up on it.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, Clinton said the US is seriously concerned about the closer military cooperation between Burma and North Korea, and Burma’s possible pursuit of “offensive weapons including nuclear weapons.”
The US imposed economic sanctions on Burma in 1997, preventing new US investment in the military-ruled country. It tightened economic sanctions that banned importing goods from Burma again in 2003, following an attack on Suu Kyi’s convoy by regime-backed thugs in northern Burma.
A veteran journalist who works at a foreign wire service in Rangoon said that he doesn’t believe the regime will consider the US offer.
“You can’t go and bribe the regime [in exchange for Suu Kyi’s release],” he said.
But the correspondent said that there has been growing optimism among the Burmese people that Suu Kyi’s prison sentence might be reduced because of the pressure from the international community.
“People are saying that the regime will put her back under house arrest with a three-year sentence,” he said. “They [the junta] still want to take her out of the election in 2010.” If convicted, she could receive up to a five-year prison sentence.
Asked to predict whether the regime might consider freeing Suu Kyi anytime soon, he said, “We are dealing with a very peculiar regime. They are unpredictable.”