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US officials urge Obama to stick with sanctions

Apr 6, 2009 (DVB), A number of prominent US congressmen have urged the White House to maintain sanctions on Burma amid signs that the Obama administration may review policy to Burma in light of their failure.

In February Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the need to review sanctions on Burma, claiming they had failed to influence the military regime.

Last month a senior US official, Steven Blake, made a rare visit to the country to meet with members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council in a further sign that relations between the two countries may be thawing.

In a letter sent to Clinton last week, however, 17 members of congress said they were "greatly concerned" by indications that the sanctions, which have been in place since 1990, may soon be lifted.

"Than Shwe’s regime continues to perpetuate crimes against humanity and war crimes so severe that Burma has been called ‘Southeast Asia’s Darfur,’" AFP quoted the letter as saying.

The letter was countered by Democratic Party member Jim Webb, who claimed that sanctions have so far been ineffective.

"What I think we should be doing in Burma is trying to open up diplomatic avenues where you can have confidence builders… and through that process work toward some way where you can remove sanctions," he said.

These comments were reinforced by Burmese opposition party the National League for Democracy.

"[Steven Blake] said the US had no plan to remove sanctions on Burma but is looking for a better solution in dealing with Burma," said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win.

Critics of sanctions have claimed that they have forced no change in the government's treatment of opposition politicians, activists and journalists, who continue to be imprisoned in large numbers.

The junta has also strengthened economic and political ties with neighbouring China, who in 2007 vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to pressure Burma into easing repression and freeing political prisoners. China is now Burma's largest trading partner.

The US have long been the fiercest critics of the Burmese government and, since the 1990 elections in which the NLD's resounding victory was never honoured, have pursued a policy of tough sanctions and almost total diplomatic disengagement.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Francis Wade