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Burma



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MEDIA RELEASE M u MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

ALEXANDER D O W N ER

FA 121 8 September, 1998

BURMA

I am very disturbed about the recent detention of a large number of representatives of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and others for merely peacefully expressing their political opinion. Our Embassy in Rangoon is urgently seeking further details about the reported detentions.

I reiterate the Australian G overnm ent's call for the parties in Burma to show restraint at this time. The recent contact between the NLD and the State Peace and Development Council was a welcome development, and we continue to hope that the parties will enter into substantive discussions as soon as possible, leading to genuine dialogue and political reform.

The Australian Government has consistently and strongly advocated the need for change in Burma. I personally raised our concerns with the Burmese Foreign Minister, U Ohn Gyaw, during the ASEAN ARF/PM C meetings in Manila at the end of July. I also took part in a meeting of like-minded nations at that forum designed to pressure the Burmese Government to allow Aung San Suu Kyi greater freedom of movement in Burma.

Subsequently during the Australia-U.S. Ministerial discussions in Sydney, in concert with the U S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, I also telephoned the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to encourage him to become personally involved in seeking a solution to the political problems in that country.

I also note a statment today by Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Mr Brereton, making a fatuous claim he would unpose sanctions on Burma. Examination of his statement shows his proposed measures would do no such thing.

Never let it be forgotten M r Brereton and the Labor Party had six years from the overthrow of the Burmese Government to the time they lost office in 1996 to impose sanctions on Burma. They didn't and they w on’t now. The only possible measure is a ban on new investment in Burma. In the year to M arch 1998, Australian direct foreign investment in Burma totalled just 0.124 per cent of the total approved direct foreign investment in that country. Mr Brereton’s

measure would have absolutely no impact at all.

Mr Brereton also appears to overlook the fact that if Australia completely shut the door on Burma we would lose all influence in that country where we are playing a leading role in putting pressure on the Burmese mi litary regime to return to democracy while remaining in close communication with a range o f pro-democracy campaigners.

Media contact: Innes Willox 0419 206 890

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