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Senior Burmese Diplomat Urges West to Ease Sanctions on Rangoon - 2002-06-03

A senior Burmese diplomat is urging Western nations to consider easing sanctions on Rangoon after a series of good-will measures including the May release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win says he hopes that nations critical of Burma will reconsider their policies as the military government and the pro-democracy opposition move toward reconciliation.

The United States and European Union have trade restrictions on Burma for suppressing democracy and human rights violations. The military government has kept a tight grip on power since refusing to recognize the 1990 elections won by the National League for Democracy, or NLD.

But Khin Maung Win told VOA, during a visit to Singapore Sunday, that the West should understand political change takes time. "It is our hope that we are in the gradual step-by-step transition to democracy," he said. "And it is our hope that the international community will look upon it with understanding and not to be impatient because this is such a delicate and sensitive matter that it must be done in a very systematic manner."

Burma has taken a number of conciliatory steps since October 2000, when it began U.N. brokered closed-door talks with NLD leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It has released about 200 political prisoners, allowed the NLD to reopen some offices and resume limited political activity. And on May 6, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from 19 months of house detention and allowed to travel outside of Rangoon.

In the last month, Aung San Suu Kyi has cautioned her supporters not to be overly optimistic, saying much work is still ahead under difficult conditions.

Aung San Suu Kyi is still forbidden to hold a public assembly at her home in the capital. Asked about this restriction, Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said the issue is not political but rather a matter of public disorder. "Because you know, we have a problem. When she gave her the speeches from her house, it caused a traffic problem," he said. "That is another matter… …We have some rules and regulations, but it's according to rules and regulations."

In the last few weeks, the NLD, emboldened by Aung San Suu Kyi's release, has called for the immediate release of all remaining political prisoners, estimated to number 1,500. It also wants more meaningful talks with the government and stands by its demand that the 1990 election results be recognized.