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January 12, 2009

East Timor president urges US, EU to review sanctions

The US and European Union should review their policy of imposing economic sanctions on Myanmar, German news agency DPA quoted the East Timor president as saying Sunday.

“If we aren't pragmatic about it there will be no solution (in Myanmar) in the immediate term or long term,” said East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, adding that the country's pariah military regime is key to the future stability of any elected government

Horta was in Bangkok over the weekend at the invitation of the International Peace Foundation. The 1996 Nobel peace laureate, reiterated his controversial stance against economic sanctions on Myanmar and Cuba, which he had made known at the United Nations and other forums.

'We cannot further punish a collectivity of people because of the perceived sins of their leaders,' said Horta.

The US has imposed economic sanctions against Myanmar's ruling junta since its bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in 1988 that left up to 3,000 dead.

Multilateral aid lenders, such as the World Bank, IMF and Asia Development Bank, ceased all loans to the country since 1988 and the European Union has imposed restrictions on aid and the granting of visas to Myanmar military leaders.

Horta last visited Myanmar in 2005 and has lent his support to his fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He said Sunday that Myanmar's long-delayed democratisation process would require the participation of the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

'You look at the transition in Thailand, the transition in the Philippines and Indonesia,' he said. 'The military have remained part of society, part of the state and party of the country.'

'If you have a road map which at the end the Burmese military see their interests have been preserved, they might find some incentive,' he added.

That is exactly what Myanmar's military-drafted constitution guarantees. The charter was pushed through in May, after a dubious plebiscite called despite Cyclone Nargis, which devastated much of the Irrawaddy Delta and left millions homeless and without aid.

The new charter guarantees a dominant role for the military through an appointed Senate that will have the right to block legislation. An election is scheduled for 2010.

'Assuming the military cedes power, no elected civilian leader in Myanmar can survive without the full support of the military,' said Horta, a well-known independence hero in his own country.

Horta, who was foreign minister when Indonesia military invaded and annexed East Timor in 1975, spent 24 years in exile struggling for Timor independence and accusing Indonesia's military of human rights atrocities.

A plebiscite calling for independence in 1999 led to a bloody crackdown by Indonesian soldiers that killed hundreds and left the country in ruins, prompting international intervention by United Nations peacekeeping forces.

East Timor, also called Timor Leste, finally gained its sovereignty in May 2002.

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