U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/07/24 Testimony: Winston Lord on Burma
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Statement of
Ambassador Winston Lord

Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

July 24, 1995

Before the Senate Appropriations Committee
Foreign Operations Subcommittee

U.S. Policy Toward Burma

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the invitation to speak before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee on behalf of the Department of State. I am pleased to discuss with you today our common concerns about the situation in Burma and explore how we can best advance U.S. interests there in the areas of human rights, democracy and counternarcotics.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI'S RELEASE

As you know, two weeks ago there was a dramatic development in Burma. After many years of determined effort by the United States and the international community, democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released unconditionally after nearly six years of house arrest. As the courageous hero of the opposition forces in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has earned the support of her people and the respect and admiration of the world for her determination and steadfastness in holding to her principles throughout the long years of house arrest.

We warmly welcome Aung San Suu Kyi's unconditional release. She has been free to meet with her family, key supporters, the press and other visitors. In her meetings and statements, Aung San Suu Kyi has been remarkably conciliatory and magnanimous. She said she personally bears the SLORC no ill will and emphasizes her commitment to engage in a dialogue with them to seek national reconciliation. She wants to hold the SLORC to its avowed aim of creating a multi-party democracy. She has emphasized that the divisions in Burma are not insurmountable and has called for all the citizens of Burma to work together for the good of the country.

After six years of house arrest, her spirit of conciliation is heartening. For the first time in a long time, there is some reason to hope Burma will take the steps it must to emerge from a long period of isolation and repression.

Aung San Suu Kyi has also called upon the international community to remain steadfast in support of democratic change for Burma. As she herself has pointed out, her release is only the beginning of what promises to be a long, slow process. Our ultimate goal, one that we will continue to express clearly, remains the same: a stable democratic Burma that respects international norms. But we do not hold unrealistic expectations that the SLORC will transform itself overnight. Nor do we underestimate its grip on power and continuing ability to dictate the pace of change. Nor does Aung San Suu Kyi's release diminish our serious concerns about human rights abuses in Burma or about the extent to which the drug trade remains ingrained in the political and economic life of the country. The Administration will continue to press the SLORC to make progress on these concerns.

In short, Mr. Chairman, we have no illusions about the SLORC. But we do want to emphasize that Aung San Suu Kyi's unconditional release is a very welcome step, one which we had urged the SLORC to take for a long time. It has brought us to a very delicate and critical moment. Its true significance will depend on whether it represents real movement toward national reconciliation and the restoration of democratic government.

U.S. POLICY TOWARD BURMA

To put her release and re-emergence on the political scene into context, I would like to review briefly recent U.S. policy toward Burma.

Last November Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Hubbard led the most senior U.S. delegation to visit Burma since 1988. The purpose of his mission, which was dispatched by the President, was to emphasize to the Burmese government the strong U.S. interest in progress on human rights, democracy, and counternarcotics. He made clear to senior SLORC officials that

the United States wants to have better relations with Burma, but stressed any improvement must be based on progress in these critical areas of concern. He told them that U.S. relations with Burma could improve if the SLORC made progress in each of these areas, but would worsen if it did not.

In the months following Mr. Hubbard's visit, the SLORC has had a mixed record in responding to the "two roads" he outlined for U.S.-Burma relations.

Despite the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and some 130 others, the SLORC continues to hold hundreds of political prisoners. The SLORC has refused to negotiate seriously with the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow free access and unsupervised prison visits, and the organization now plans to leave Burma at the end of this month. Egregious human rights violations continue. Burmese citizens are routinely rounded up and forced to carry military equipment, weapons and ammunition for the Burmese Army. In addition to being denied adequate food and water, these porters are often forced to work, at great risk, in areas of armed conflict. The SLORC also compels its citizens to carry out forced labor on roads, railroads and other infrastructure projects.

The SLORC's renewed military offensives against the Karen and Karenni minorities have led to serious humanitarian concerns and sent more than 10,000 refugees fleeing into Thailand. The refugees have put a substantial new burden on the Thai government and the NGO's which are providing assistance to them. The Burmese Army has also lent support to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which launched attacks on Karen refugee camps inside Thailand.

On the narcotics front, we have seen some positive developments. The SLORC followed through in February on its promise to allow U.S. government experts to conduct a joint opium yield survey with the participation and assistance of the Burmese Government, an important step in the counternarcotics field. The Burmese Army has also continued to attack the Shan United Army and taken significant casualties in an effort to regain control of the territory Khun Sa controls. Although this has resulted in some disruption of Khun Sa's ability to traffic in drugs, the SLORC must still take serious steps to deny legitimacy to other important narco-traffickers, and to end corruption. Burma, principally in its ethnic minority and insurgent-controlled areas, still produces about two-thirds of the heroin that reaches the streets of America.

In the past several years, the United States has steadily increased our pressure on the military regime in Rangoon. We suspended our own economic aid program and have urged other potential donors like Japan to refrain from development assistance. We do not provide GSP trade preferences and have decertified Burma as a narcotics cooperating country, which requires us by law to vote against assistance to Burma by international financial institutions. This and our influence with other countries have in practice prevented most assistance to Burma from the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Neither Eximbank nor OPIC provides loans or insurance for American companies selling to or investing in Burma. The United States has not had an ambassador in Burma since 1990.

Internationally, the Administration has strongly supported efforts in the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Labor Organization to condemn human and worker rights violations in Burma. We have urged the UN to play an active role in promoting democratic reform through a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. We refrain from selling arms to Burma and have an informal agreement with our G-7 friends and allies to do the same.

We believe these measures have had an impact on the SLORC. While the regime has sought, increasingly, to open the country to foreign investment and tourism, our actions and those of like-minded countries have made clear that Burma can not fully rejoin the international community until fundamental changes are made.

U.S. RESPONSE TO THE RELEASE OF AUNG SAN SUU KYI

When Aung San Suu Kyi was released July 10, the President welcomed the announcement. He also made clear, however, that the development would only mark a major milestone toward restoring peace and stability in Burma if it leads to a genuine process of political reconciliation and eventual installation of a democratically-elected government. The President also emphasized the seriousness of the unresolved human rights problems in Burma and humanitarian concerns connected with ongoing military campaigns against ethnic insurgents. The question now facing the United States is how to respond to the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi in a way to help the process of democratization and promote progress on other U.S. national interests.

In his meeting with SLORC officials last November, Deputy Assistant Secretary Hubbard said Aung San Suu Kyi's unconditional release was one of the key steps we wanted to see in Burma. While maintaining pressure on the SLORC, we should be prepared to give credit where credit is due, when the regime takes positive steps, as it did in releasing her.

The Administration believes that her release is a necessary first step to warrant progress in relations with Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi has said, and we agree, that the key now is for the SLORC to begin a genuine dialogue on the future of the country with Aung San Suu Kyi and democratic elements. We want to support this process of dialogue and reconciliation.

We must let Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition take the lead in pursuing political reform and national reconciliation. We should offer steady and clear support, but obviously cannot dictate the outcome or pace of the dialogue. Rather, we want to look for ways to promote the dialogue that Aung San Suu Kyi is seeking with the government, as the next logical step in fostering national reconciliation and improving the political situation on which so much depends: the restoration of democratic civilian government, and an end to human rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, and attacks on ethnic groups.

To encourage a political dialogue to begin, the Administration will maintain the existing U.S. measures in place in Burma for the time being. In the absence of genuine political reforms in Burma, we do not believe it is appropriate to resume development assistance, restore GSP benefits or resume Eximbank and OPIC programs. Of greatest impact, we will also continue to oppose lending from the international financial institutions and seek, with other friendly governments, to maintain our informal arms embargo.

The Administration will, however, take steps to underscore our support for Aung San Suu Kyi's call for a genuine dialogue toward national reconciliation. First, in light of the Nobel laureate's release, we believe it is important that the Administration continue its direct dialogue with the SLORC. We will also seek Aung San Suu Kyi's views directly on the situation in Burma and how the international community can assist her in moving the process in Burma forward.

Second, the Administration proposes to continue U.S. support and funding for UNDP and UNDCP activities in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi has endorsed the development and counternarcotics objectives of these organizations. In her first press conference, she said she strongly supports the UN being allowed to play an important role in all countries, including her own. We note that UNDP's programs have been thoroughly revamped and redirected at meeting the urgent needs of the poorest Burmese. UNDCP, meanwhile, is working to address the scourge of the drug trade, an affliction for Burmese citizens as well as American. We share Aung San Suu Kyi's view that these and all UN activities in Burma should contribute to promoting democracy in the country.

Finally, we will continue to discuss the situation in Burma with other interested countries. As an important first step, Secretary Christopher will review the situation in Burma with the members of ASEAN and other countries next week at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference in Brunei. He will stress the points that Aung San Suu Kyi has made which we believe reflect wisdom: this is a time for patience and perseverance. We must welcome the release, but it is not yet time to relax our efforts to promote meaningful change.

VIEWS ON PENDING LEGISLATION

While we call for the SLORC to take more steps to achieve national reconciliation, we must still recognize that Aung San Suu Kyi's release is potentially a turning point for Burma. In the coming weeks and months, the United States and the international community will need to react thoughtfully and carefully as developments unfold. As it becomes clearer how the SLORC will respond to the olive branch offered by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Administration's reaction will be considered and appropriate. I have already indicated the Administration will keep in place the existing measures with respect to Burma for the time being. The Administration, however, also needs the flexibility to respond to what is clearly a changing situation in Burma. While the legislation under consideration in Congress is a serious effort to address continuing violations of human rights in Burma, we believe it would be counterproductive in the wake of the Nobel laureate's release. While international pressure helped produce Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom, we must now allow time for a dialogue of national reconciliation to begin.

First, the Administration believes that this is not the right time to impose unilateral trade and investment sanctions on Burma. The evidence on the effectiveness of economic sanctions is clear: they are not effective without broad international support. We have discussed sanctions with interested countries, and there is no support for them against Burma, particularly in the wake of Aung San Suu Kyi's release. Furthermore, we are concerned that some sanctions provisions, which call for actions against third countries, might violate our obligations under the WTO. We would not want to be required to take punitive action against countries on whom we need to rely to make common cause in other ways on Burma.

Second, we believe Congress should support continued U.S. funding for UNDP and UNDCP programs in Burma. As I have already indicated the Administration believes these programs help needy Burmese without strengthening the SLORC.

Finally, the Administration believes Congress should not limit U.S. counternarcotics programs with Burma. As Assistant Secretary Gelbard will make clear, these programs are already very limited -- as is appropriate. We believe that the minimal efforts now underway will not undermine our human rights goals.

In the wake of Aung San Suu Kyi's release, we do not want to restrict our options. Sanctions should remain one of those options. But if we are to be successful in our efforts to encourage dialogue in Burma, we must do more than penalize the SLORC at every turn. We must also be prepared to recognize positive steps such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. What the Administration will do in the coming months in Burma depends on the SLORC. The Administration needs the flexibility to respond appropriately.

CONCLUSION

Mr. Chairman, Congress and the Administration share the same objectives in Burma. We want to see a dialogue of national reconciliation that will help lead to a new democratic future for Burma. We want an end to human rights abuses and the installation of a democratically-elected government in Rangoon. We want an end to trafficking in heroin. Our hope is that we will look back on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as a turning point in Burma's history. Thoughtful, reasoned measures by the U.S. Government can help make these hopes a reality.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Committee and other Members of Congress on these and other issues.

Thank you.

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