A spokesman for the Burmese government in exile has urged Washington not to hastily ease sanctions against Burma's military government. The exile government and rights groups support U.S. engagement with Burma, but they also want pressure for change.
A spokesman for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Zin Linn, says U.S. sanctions should stay in place until opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is released and Burma's rulers agree to talks with the opposition.
"All the sanctions made by the U.S. and EU will hurt directly to the military junta, the generals, and only their cronies," he said. "Not hurt to the ordinary peoples, because all the economic business, all the big industries are in the hands of the generals and their relatives. No other, ordinary people have a chance, or they have no rights to participate in the economic sectors."
Zin Linn was responding to U.S. Senator Jim Webb's call for reducing sanctions and further engaging Burma's rulers.
In an opinion article published this week in the New York Times newspaper, Webb said the sanctions had only entrenched the Burmese generals and isolated the country.
Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma researcher for Amnesty International, says isolating a military government that is all too willing to isolate itself is counter-productive. He says regional engagement is the only way that changes are going to come.
"Further engagement and further pressure are not mutually exclusive policies or tactics," said Zawacki. "And, so it needs more of both of those things."
Zin Linn says he agrees the sanctions have not brought change. But he says Washington must continue to pressure Burma's rulers to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other key opposition figures if they want to see democracy in the country.
Webb says sanctions also allow China, which does not support the measures, to dramatically increase its economic and political influence with Burma, which he called a "dangerous strategic imbalance."
Senator Webb earlier this month became the most senior U.S. politician to visit Burma in a decade.
He met with Burma's reclusive military leader Than Shwe and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also secured the release of American John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years hard labor for visiting Aung San Suu Kyi without official permission. The military government extended her house arrest by 18 months for allowing the uninvited guest to stay two days. The military has held Aung San Suu Kyi for 14 of the past 20 years, drawing condemnation by much of the international community, including the United States and the United Nations. The National League for Democracy, which Aung San Suu Kyi leads, won Burma's last election, in 1990, but was never allowed to take office. Many of those elected were forced to flee the country and they have formed the government in exile.