Danish Minster Slams Burma Boycott, Sanctions
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Danish Minster Slams Burma Boycott, Sanctions

By WAI MOE Monday, August 11, 2008

People cast their votes in Mandalay. (Photo: Sai Silp/The Irrawaddy)

Denmark's minister for development cooperation said in a recent interview with a Danish newspaper that economic sanctions on Burma and a tourism boycott of the country are counterproductive.

According to a report in Politiken on Saturday, one of Denmark’s leading newspapers, minister Ulla Tørnæs of the ruling Liberal Party said Burma would benefit from more tourists and trade with the world.

Ulla Tørnæs (Source: udd.uvm.dk)
Meanwhile, there have been unconfirmed reports among nongovernmental workers and diplomats that the European Union developmental agency might be in the process of undergoing a reevaluation of its views on economic sanctions on Burma. 

Ulla Tørnæs said she planned to raise the issue with the EU and ask it to reconsider its position on Burma.

Some analysts said the Danish minister’s views are a sign of a potential EU policy shift in the near future.

“I think it is fine to consider a new strategy and to re-think the sanctions,” said Mikael Gravers, a Burma expert at Aarhus University in Denmark in an e-mail to The Irrawaddy. “But a sudden change looks like a surrender and letting down the opposition. A new strategy must be formulated before the sanctions are lifted.”

Tourism and trade are positive for the country’s development, said minister Ulla Tørnæs. She said economic sanctions may have a place in some situations, if they can be shown to achieve their desired effect, but, “Burma is isolated and closed.”

Change is more likely to come in Burma from internal pressure on the military government, she said.

She said Aung San Suu Kyi probably understands that nothing has changed in a positive way. She also disagreed with Suu Kyi over sanctions.

In 1996, Suu Kyi called for economic sanctions on the Burmese junta and a tourism boycott, saying they only put more money into the hands of the junta and funded human rights violations. The United States and some EU countries are the strongest proponents of sanctions against the regime. They are not favored by Asian countries. 

Christian Friis Bach, an international officer of the relief mission of the Danish Church, said the junta’s strategy is to isolate the people and Western sanctions help to isolate the people as well.

“Therefore I agree that it is a good idea to encourage people to go to Burma,” he was quoted as saying in Politiken.

The EU has passed annual sanctions against the Burmese junta for years. Recently, the EU adopted tighter sanctions, including an embargo on the import of gemstones, timber and metal, and a wider visa ban against members of the Burmese military government following the suppression of pro-democracy protests in September 2007.  

Some Danish activists expressed surprise at the minister’s comments in Politiken because Denmark is a supporter of EU policy on Burma and officially supports sanctions against the junta.

The Danish Burma Committee told Politiken the minister was out of touch with Danish interests.

“She is quite careless about people,” said Anton Johannsen, the chairman of the Danish Burma Committee. He said economic sanctions are effective in weakening the junta.

Thomas Petersen, a Denmark trade union activist who has worked on the Burma issue for years, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Ulla Tørnæs comments were a “big surprise.” 

“It’s strange she says things like that when the official policy at the ministry of foreign affairs is different,” he said.

“It is not important what I think about sanctions or no sanctions. I am working on Burma for the Burmese people and as long as the Burmese people are calling for sanctions, so will I,” he said. “We are not here to tell the Burmese what to think.”

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