Prospects for political change in Burma were examined in a congressional hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The Bush administration says U.S. sanctions will remain until there is further progress toward reconciliation between Burma's military government and the democratic opposition.
At Wednesday's hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley said that, so far, Burma's ruling generals have kept their promise to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to travel outside Rangoon. If this trend continues, he said, it would be a real and major step forward.
However, Mr. Daley noted there is no guarantee and for the time being, U.S. economic and other sanctions remain unchanged. "We have no plans to remove our existing sanctions on Burma," he said. "Although we warmly welcome Aung San Suu Kyi's release, it only represents the first step toward democracy and national reconciliation, and she never should have been under house arrest in the first place. A lot more remains to be done."
Forward political movement was not the only concern of lawmakers. Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman focused on Burma's counter-narcotics cooperation, and its close military ties with China.
"With the collapse of the Taleban the military dictators who run Burma are once again the world's largest source of opium and heroin," he said. "The vast amount of amphetamines that Burma produces has devastated the youth and future of the region. Hundreds of millions of those tablets are being shipped throughout the world. In addition to the de-stabilizing effects of illegal narcotics, the Burmese junta has received close to $2 billion worth of military arms from China and is permitting China's military to build naval stations and spying facilities on Burmese soil to be used against democratic India."
Lawmakers want to know how the Bush administration intends to help move the political reconciliation process forward without directly aiding or endorsing the military government.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Daley says U.S. policy will seek to enhance, not undercut, Burma's democracy movement. But he acknowledged one dilemma. "One of the greatest challenges, I think, we face is the issue of capacity building in civil society and democracy in Burma," he said. "We have done an awful lot on the Thai-Burmese border, but people inside Burma are concerned that nothing has been done for those who actually stayed behind and suffered the worst of the repression."
Just after Aung San Suu Kyi's release, the Bush administration announced it would work with Congress to provide funding, through non-government agencies, to help Burma fights its serious AIDS epidemic.