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Burma Invites US to Enter Dialogue on Economic, Political Development - 2003-02-20

Burma's military government, under the threat of fresh economic sanctions, has invited the United States to enter a dialogue on the country's future economic and political development.

In a statement issued Thursday, Burma said it would welcome American advice on how to make the transition to a stable democracy.

The move comes after the United States said it may consider more sanctions, if Burma does not speed up the pace of political reconciliation.

The Burmese statement expressed disappointment at the suggestion, made last week by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Lorne Craner. The military government says it believes "sanctions, in short, do not solve problems; they only make them worse."

Western diplomats in Rangoon tell VOA, the statement marks a change in the government's usual stance of rebutting international criticism over its human rights and political reform record.

The United States and European Union have maintained tough economic sanctions since the military government refused to hand over power to the National League for Democracy, when the party won elections in 1990.

The Burmese government entered U.N-brokered, but secretive, talks with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi two years ago. However, the NLD and foreign officials have expressed frustration at the slow pace of the talks and failure to address concrete political issues.

Burma's ruling generals have said they will consider a slow path to democracy, so as not to destabilize the country, but have given no details or timetable.

Burma expert Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, a professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, says this offer for U.S. participation is cautious good news.

"To me, such an invitation would expose the regime to some kind of discussion, and that, of course, will lead to some kind of promise, which they have to [meet]," Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong said.

Debbie Stothard, a spokeswoman for the human rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network in Burma, remains skeptical about the government's motives.

"The regime itself has not been able to deliver the most basic reforms, and the talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime have definitely stalled," Ms. Stothard said. "So it's clear to the international community that the regime has refused to move in the direction of dialogue with their own democracy movement."

The threat of fresh economic sanctions come as Burma is facing a potential banking and financial crisis. Earlier this week, the Central Bank in Rangoon banned money transfers, and limited bank withdrawals, to stem a run on deposits after rumors of possible bank failures.

Burma's economy ranks as one of the world's poorest, after 40 years of economic mismanagement by the military leadership.