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Burma: Other Countries Interfere With Move Toward Democracy - 2002-02-19

Burma's military leader, General Than Shwe, says interference by other countries is slowing Burma's moves toward democracy. Than Shwe's spoke while U.N. special envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was wrapping up a 10 day visit.

General Than Shwe says foreign interference through trade and aid sanctions hamper Burma's moves toward democracy.

He spoke to members of the state-controlled Union Solidarity Development Association as U.N. human-rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro ended a visit to gauge Burma's progress on human-rights reform.

General Than Shwe said the policies of some Western states, especially Europe and the United States, hold back political progress in the country. The head of the military government said Burma faces difficulties and internal disturbances as well as external interference.

He said without such interference Burma would develop more quickly and the democratization process in the country would be faster.

The United States and the European Union maintain aid and trade sanctions against Burma, in an effort to pressure the government to hand over power to an elected government and to force human-rights reforms.

Burma is one of Asia's poorest countries, receiving little foreign aid or investment.

Comments about "internal disturbances" are usually seen as referring to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. The NLD won landslide elections in May 1990, but has been kept from taking power.

There have been some signs of progress since the start of U.N.-mediated talks in 2000 between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi. Government criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi has been toned down and some political prisoners have been freed.

The military government appears to be more willing to work with international observers who are assessing its progress human and labor rights in Burma. A team from the International Labor Organization (ILO) is visiting Burma.

Mr. Pinheiro has told reporters he is satisfied with the cooperation he received from the government. He met with ethnic minority leaders as well as Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit.