* Sian Powell, Bangkok
* From: The Australian
* November 17, 2010 12:00AM
AUSTRALIA, along with other Western nations, is waiting to see whether Aung San Suu Kyi will withdraw her support for the sanctions that have isolated Burma.
The freed democracy advocate has publicly stated she would consider the matter, but she gave no timeframe for the crucial decision. Analysts believe it is her trump card in negotiating with Burma's military regime.
A series of sanctions has been imposed by the West since the regime annulled the victory of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party in the 1990 elections. Australia and the EU have instituted targeted sanctions, designed to pinpoint regime members and supporters.
The US and Canada have imposed broader measures, barring almost all trade with Burma.
Win Min, an exiled Burmese political scientist based in the US, said the military regime's State Peace and Development Council, led by general Than Shwe, was keen to see sanctions wound back.
"It's very smart and strategic for Suu Kyi to raise withdrawing the sanctions as another immediate issue she can work on with Than Shwe," he told The Australian..
"Than Shwe asked her about it as one of four main preconditions for the dialogue with her after the crackdown in 2007."
After her release on the weekend, Ms Suu Kyi noted that many of the people who flocked to see her looked poor. "If people really want sanctions to be lifted, I will consider this," she said. "This is the time Burma needs help."
According to a diplomatic source quoted by Agence France-Presse, she later confirmed to a group of ambassadors she would rethink her position on sanctions.
"She said she would decide what position to take on sanctions in due course, in the light of what was the right thing for the people of Burma. So she did not make any plea," the source said.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has spoken to Ms Suu Kyi, and his spokeswoman made it clear Canberra could be flexible on the issue. "Australia's targeted sanctions, travel bans and ban on defence exports currently remain in place to maintain pressure on the Burmese authorities to address human rights concerns," the spokeswoman said. "Australia will be watching very closely what emerges from the Burmese political process, and will be engaging with Aung San Suu Kyi and other key players in the international community to determine the next steps to support reform and democracy in Burma."
There is agreement among most Western leaders that sanctions have failed to produce progress in the field of Burma's human rights violations or relief for the 2200 political prisoners. And there is consensus that sanctions, combined with appalling economic mismanagement and corruption, have contributed to Burma's dire economic straits. The nation has a per capita gross domestic product of about $US1100 ($1116) - one of the lowest in the world.
It is feasible Ms Suu Kyi will withdraw her support for broader economic sanctions, but will continue to uphold the targeted sanctions designed to affect Burma's military leaders.
Win Min said the SPDC regime had used Ms Suu Kyi's release to deflect criticism of the widely condemned elections held earlier this month. The regime's proxy political party has unofficially claimed to have won 80 per cent of the votes in Burma's first poll in 20 years - national and provincial elections widely derided as a farce, and neither free nor fair.
General Than Shwe also wanted to use the Suu Kyi release as an important first step to improve relations with Washington, Win Min said. "The US raised the issue of releasing her and the political prisoners as a first step to revoke sanctions and normalise relations," he added.
Burmese exiles differ on whether the sanctions have been effective, although supporters concede that the refusal by some nations to impose the measures has muted the overall effect. Trade between China and Burma has quadrupled over the past decade, and Thailand has recently announced a joint-venture billion-dollar port development in Burma.