Pressure stepped up against Burmese regime
Britain stepped up pressure against the military Government in Burma yesterday, following calls from amongst others, Christian parliamentarians.
As part of concerted international action against the junta, Tony Blair said that Britain had made ìthe strongest possible representationsî to Rangoon, and called on British companies to stop trading with Burma.
Demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader, Britain warned Rangoon that it faced further sanctions if it did not comply.
The move follows pressure from parliamentarians including well known Christian campaigners Lord Alton and Baroness Cox who initiated a debate on Burma in the House of Lords this week.
Groups such as the Jubilee campaign have also previously called on British businesses to stop trading with Burma.
As the Prime Minister spoke, Kyaw Win, the Burmese Ambassador to London, was summoned to the Foreign Office to be rebuked by Mike OíBrien, the minister responsible for the region.
The envoy was told that Britain wanted the release of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader immediately and required direct contact with her to establish her well-being.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide joined the Burma Campaign and the Burmese community in London in a mass demonstration outside the Burmese Embassy at the beginning of the month to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Several pro-democracy supporters were killed and their leader was taken into ìprotective custodyî at the end of May.
Although Burmese authorities insist that the action was taken to protect Suu Kyi, British officials fear that she is being held under security legislation that allows the detention of a suspect for up to five years.
They believe that she is being held in the notorious Insein prison, a claim that has been denied by the Burmese authorities.
Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister said: ìWe have made the strongest possible representations, not merely in respect of the release of the leader of the opposition, but also the restoration of proper human and democratic rights, and the European Union also issued a strong statement at the European Council.
ìWe are making it clear to British companies that we do not believe this (trade) is appropriate in circumstances where this regime continues to suppress the basic human rights of its people,î he added.
Mr OíBrien will discuss the matter next week with Martin Broughton, the chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT), which employs about 500 people in Burma.
A spokeswoman for the company said that BAT would continue to do business in Burma in a ìresponsible mannerî. She said that it was not the companyís responsibility to conduct ìinternational diplomacyî, but that it would comply with any government legislation.
Premier Oil, which was once Britainís largest investor in Burma, said that it had decided to pull out of the country last year and that the deal completing its withdrawal would be finalised next week.
British officials conceded that it was unlikely that an international trade embargo would be imposed against Burma, which has close ties to China and strong trading links with France.
Britain wants to avoid further isolating the country and international trade sanctions would probably only harm the already impoverished civilian population.
Nevertheless, the international community is clearly ready to increase the pressure on Rangoon.
Since Daw Suu Kyiís arrest, the European Union has reimposed sanctions, including a restriction on foreign travel for senior junta figures and a freeze on non-humanitarian economic aid to the country. Burma is also subject to an arms embargo and a ban on military links.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that the travel ban could be expanded to include senior managers of state-run enterprises and other government officials.