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World Consensus on Burma Eroding


Diplomatic efforts to press Burma's military government to negotiate with the opposition continue. The recent violent crackdown against Burma's pro-democracy movement provoked worldwide condemnation but consensus among nations is eroding on what to do next. VOA's Bill Rodgers reports.

Outwardly, life seems to have returned to normal in Rangoon and other cities in Burma -- following the violent crackdown in late September against pro-democracy demonstrations.

Yet the repression now continues behind the scenes, says Tom Malinowski -- Human Rights Watch advocacy director in Washington DC says, "The country is mostly locked down. There are still troops on the streets. People are mostly staying home, they are very much afraid after the violence they were subjected to in the last several weeks. And the military is sending security forces, house by house, particularly at night, searching for people who were involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations."

Media reports say fewer Buddhist monks are visible on city streets and soldiers keep them under close watch to prevent another uprising.

The saffron-robed monks spearheaded the protests in September -- which were the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma in almost 20 years.

Following the crackdown, President Bush imposed additional economic sanctions on Burma and the European Union also agreed to broaden its sanctions.

But China -- the country with the most influence on Burma -- refuses to do so.

China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, said this month sanctions are not helpful. "We hope that the countries concerned will play a helping role instead of applying sanctions and applying pressure."

This division among countries has dimmed the hopes of some pro-democracy advocates that enough pressure would force the military government to negotiate with the opposition.

Amnesty International's T. Kumar made a point at a recent forum on Burma in Washington. "If a permanent member of the UN Security Council is with you [Burma], you won't have to worry. China was there and the other friend, Russia, was there to help them out. So any country that wants to abuse rights, you have a lesson. Go and be friends with one of the permanent members of the Security Council and they will stand by you, don't worry," Kumar said.

Burma's military rulers are the targets of the U.S. sanctions which, among other things, freeze any financial assets in American banks. Burma's ruling elite is believed to have most of its assets in Asian financial centers.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says a broader international freeze of these bank accounts would be very effective. "Even the most isolated generals, living in the most isolated jungle, can't afford to have their credit cards canceled. They do need their money to be able to pay their military, they need money to continue to building their capital, to fund their families' lavish lifestyles. And I think when they are separated from that money, my hope is that they are going to seek a way out."

UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari -- who has been consulting with Asian nations -- is expected to return to Burma in early November. He is promoting dialogue between the government and opposition.

Yet divisions continue as France, a close U.S. ally, sent its top diplomat to Asia to discuss offering Burma incentives, rather than only sanctions.

A carrot and stick approach -- even as Burma's dissidents fear the club wielded by Burma's military junta just weeks ago.

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