News / Asia

Burmese Band Feels Pinch of Foreign Sanctions

Darko C of the Burmese band Side Effect records vocal tracks.
Darko C of the Burmese band Side Effect records vocal tracks.
Danielle Bernstein

Although many nations have welcomed Burma's ongoing political reforms, U.S. economic sanctions against the country remain in place. The measures are aimed at curbing the government's economic strength, but they can also directly affect normal citizens. A band of musicians in Rangoon found out it is also affected by the sanctions.

Burma's loosened political and social controls have been a boon to artists such as punk rock band Side Effect, which this year turned to the Internet to raise money for their debut album.

Last week, they learned that their online fundraising campaign with the U.S. website indiegogo.com was frozen by the U.S. Office for Foreign Asset Control. The fund's $2,840, which they hoped would also help them buy a drum kit, has been refunded to donors.

Side Effect front man Darko C. feels the band has been unjustly targeted.

"No it's not fair, we're not working for the government. We're just a group of musicians. We're kind of lost at the moment," he said. "The sanctions ruined our dream. It doesn't make any sense, so maybe they should do some reconsideration."

The United States and other Western countries are warming to the idea of possibly lifting sanctions.

Foreign powers have been encouraged by Burma's release of political prisoners and the government's decision to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for a seat in parliament.

Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Australia's Macquarie University and editor of Burma Economics Watch, says Burma's reforms have caused a huge shift in opinion on sanctions.

"Now there's a recognition that if, and this is a critical if, the reforms keep being rolled out and we do see significant milestones reached, then I think the perception really is growing that sanctions will begin to be lifted," he said.

Even if there is broad political support in Washington for lifting sanctions, political analysts say it could take two years for the U.S. Congress to complete the process for fully rescinding the measures. In the meantime, Turnell says the experiences of Side Effect are not an isolated case.

"Very often it causes collateral damage, groups that you wouldn't really be wanting to target are in a sense falling under the board of sanctions. The people who are finding it most problematic in this area are actually people who share names with people who were members Burma's military regime," said Turnell.

U.S. senators visiting Burma this week said the United States is considering lifting sanctions if Burma continues its reforms and if April elections are free and fair.





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