I agree with the principle, sanctions and negotiations but in reality does that mean- we want to counter China’s influence, get some of our own and human rights can go hang. I shall judge on results.

New strategy will involve high-level engagement with Burmese leaders while keeping sanctions in place. The US government is to embark on a major policy shift towards Burma after concluding that its long-term policy of sanctions had failed to sway the junta.

The US state department confirmed today that the new strategy, while keeping sanctions in place, will involve high-level engagement with Burmese leaders, in line with Barack Obama’s general policy of talking with countries it regards as international pariahs.

Obama, in contrast with George Bush’s administration, has already offered to hold direct talks with Iran and North Korea.

The shift was signalled on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York last night when the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the US will move “in the direction of both engagement and continued sanctions”.

Speaking to foreign ministers at a Friends of Burma meeting, she said: “Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion. So, going forward we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals. To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities.”

Sanctions, which are imposed by the European Union as well as the US, would be eased if the junta was to move towards significant reform, she said.

The US is pushing for the introduction of democracy and the release of the opposition leader and Nobel Peace prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Opposition groups and supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi gave the US shift a cautious welcome.

Maran Turner, a lawyer and executive director of Freedom Now, a Washington-based group, that has been campaigning for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, said: “We are glad that the Obama administration is turning its attention to Burma. I agree it is time for a multi-faceted approach.” But she questioned the value of engagement if it only involved the US and the junta and not the opposition.

The strategy shift comes at the end of a policy review on Burma ordered by Clinton is February.

The move coincides with a visit by the Burmese leader Than Shwe to the UN general assembly, the first senior member of the junta to attend for 14 years. In an effort to try to ease criticism of the country’s human rights record ahead of his visit, the junta last week declared an amnesty for about 7,000 prisoners. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, said the amnesty fell “short of expectations”. Human rights groups estimate Burma has 2,200 political prisoners.

Ban, speaking after the meeting with Clinton, said next year will be critical for Burma when it is scheduled to hold an election. Opposition groups have already labelled the elections a sham.


Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmese opposition leader, has welcomed the announcement of a shift in US policy towards engagement with the south-east Asian nation.

Suu Kyi’s comments, released by her lawyer on Thursday, came a day after Washington mooted a potential easing of sanctions if engagement with Naypyidaw brings political reform.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that direct engagement is good … but must be with both sides [government and opposition],” Nyan Win, her lawyer, told the AFP news agency after meeting her at her home in Yangon.

How to Trap a President in a Losing War

Latest By Tom Engelhardt is worth reading, (though how much Obama really disfavours war I think is debatable) empires always become a support mechanism for a military parasite, an army with a rump -increasingly undemocratic- homeland attached. A simple anecdotal survey of the ubiquity of the Support the Troops mantra in service of warfare (not welfare) across all parties gives it away, small excerpt-

It’s one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of “civilians” theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president’s special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the “war czar” when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.

Meanwhile if you can spare some cash Courage to Resist need funds.

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And They Also Have Tasers Now…

Thames Valley Police has been fined £40,000 for breaching health and safety laws when a civilian worker was accidentally shot. Pc David Micklethwaite, 52, shot control room employee Keith Tilbury, 57, during a firearms awareness course in Oxfordshire on 30 May 2007. It was revealed at Southwark Crown Court that Pc Micklethewaite had failed a gun training course, but was allowed to continue working. He mistakenly loaded a Magnum revolver with live ammunition which was kept in an old Quality Street tin. The judge said this practice was a “disaster waiting to happen”.

Pc Micklethwaite was accused of “engaging in the pointing of weapons and the pulling of a trigger during role-play in the classroom”, “failing to examine or check the round of ammunition” and discharging the gun “while inadvertently pointing the weapon at Keith Tilbury”. Mr Tilbury, a control room employee for Thames Valley Police Authority, was shot in the stomach at point-blank range while he was listening to a lecture alongside 10 colleagues at the force’s Police Headquarters North in Kidlington. He suffered serious damage to his lungs, kidneys and bowel and spent two weeks in intensive care. Mr Tilbury has told the BBC he is unlikely to return to work.