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Thailand Won't Increase Pressure on Burma - 2003-07-16

Thailand says it will not ratchet up pressure on Burma for democratic change, despite new calls from the United States that it do so. The U.S. House of Representatives passed tough economic sanctions against Burma Tuesday. But Thailand is balking at taking a tough approach to its neighbor.

Thailand says it will continue to engage in what it calls a "constructive dialogue" with Burma's ruling generals. Last-minute language added to the U.S. congressional sanctions bill calls on Burma's neighbors, China and Thailand, to stop what it termed "economic and political patronage of the Burmese dictatorship."

But Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow told VOA that Thailand prefers dialogue as a way of bringing about democratic change in Burma. "We believe that the approach should be through somehow having a dialogue with the present regime and working towards the present regime to see how we can move towards this end goal of democratization," he says.

He also says Thailand's proximity to Burma - also known as Myanmar - rules out talking tough to the generals. "We are not in a position like the U.S. The U.S. is not next door to Myanmar. We are next door to Myanmar," he says. "And so our position will have to be dictated by that reality."

The U.S. bill was passed primarily as a protest against the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Nobel laureate and democracy activist. She has been held by the government since a May 30 clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob. The government has refused to disclose where she is being held or when she is to be released.

The new sanctions - which must still be reconciled with a U.S. Senate version and signed by President Bush before they become law - ban Burmese imports, freeze Burmese assets in the United States, and mandate U.S. opposition to any international loans or assistance to Burma.

The Burmese government denounced the sanctions Wednesday as harmful to the population, saying it would have a damaging effect on health care and education.

Burma exported about $356 million worth of goods to the United States last year, most it clothing and footwear.

Exiled Burmese dissidents welcome the sanctions. Aung Moe Zaw, general secretary of the National Council of the Union of Burma, says he believes they will hurt the ruling generals where it hurts - in the wallet.

But Aung Zaw of the exile newspaper The Irrawaddy says it is difficult to gauge how the general population of Burma will react to the sanctions. "I think a lot of dissidents in and out of Burma welcome that decision, these new sanctions imposed on Burma. But inside, you know, it's hard to know what the general population, how they feel about it."

The U.S. move is expected to increase pressure on European countries to adopt similar measures.