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Suu Kyi says West's sanctions in Burma should remain in place

The party of the Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi believes Western sanctions should remain in place despite her release, because prohibitions hit the military regime rather than the ordinary population.

In an announcement that will disappoint Western corporations wishing to do business with Burma and exploit its rich natural resources, the National League for Democracy said its own research into the impact of sanctions revealed that it was the junta suffering and not the broader population. The NLD's complete findings will be released today.

Ms Suu Kyi and her party have for decades supported sanctions as an important tool in the struggle for democracy and to try to lever the regime into improving its record on human rights.

Some analysts and aid workers believe sanctions hurt ordinary people and further isolate the country from Western influence. Some also argue that Western companies are losing out on lucrative business while Asian nations such as China, India, South Korea and Thailand are strengthening their relationships with Burma and securing large energy and infrastructure deals.

Last year, when Ms Suu Kyi was released from seven years' house arrest, she requested briefings with Western diplomats on the impact of sanctions. Her party also set about examining their impact on the Burmese people. Last month, Ms Suu Kyi further indicated that she may call for a lifting of sanctions in a pre-recorded address to the economic summit at Davos in which she appeared to suggest they had failed to have any real effect on the junta.

She said that over the past 50 years political conflict had meant Burma had missed opportunities and its development had lagged behind that of its neighbours. "I would like to request those who have invested or who are thinking of investing in Burma to put a premium on respect for the law, on environmental and social factors, on the rights of workers, on job creation and on the promotion of technological skills," she said.

The EU first imposed restrictions against Burma in 1996 and has updated and renewed its policy every year. After the 2007 Saffron Uprising, when the junta responded brutally to widespread democracy demonstrations, Brussels enacted further sanctions, including a travel ban on Burma's top political officials, an arms embargo and a freezing of the assets in Europe of Burmese officials and their business partners.

The US first imposed broad sanctions in 1988 after the junta's crackdown on an earlier democracy movement, led largely by students, in which up to 6,000 people may have died. Washington has gradually tightened restrictions to try to force the military rulers to negotiate with the political opposition. The Obama administration sought a new diplomatic relationship with Burma, but little has come of it.

Tin Oo, the NLD vice-chairman, told the Reuters news agency that the party had been consulting economists and ordinary people. "We came to find that the sanctions affect only the leaders of the ruling regime and their close business associates, not the majority of the people," he said.

The party's senior officials also said that while they believed independent travellers should visit Burma, they did not support mass tourism projects such as cruise liners which provided "a lot of money for the regime".

Derek Tonkin, of the Myanmar Network, a UK-based organisation that publishes papers on Burma, said he believed Ms Suu Kyi did not want to lose the support of the West. He added: "I suspect this announcement is a political statement rather than something to do with economics."