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The Australian on July 12 (r)

Wed July 12
By Foreign Affairs writer Cameron Stewart and Ron=20
Corben in Bangkok
THE Keating Government is considering easing its=20
hardline policy towards Burma's military regime=20
following the surprise release of Nobel Peace Laureate=20
and dissident Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.
Her release, after almost six years of detention, was=20
warmly welcomed yesterday by Australia, which has been=20
one of the harshest critics of Burma's brutal military=20
Ms Suu Kyi was arrested on July 20 1989. Her National=20
League for Democracy then won a landslide victory in=20
democratic elections in 1990, but Burma's military=20
regime, the State Law and Order  Restoration Council,=20
refused to give up power.
The acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator=20
McMullan, yesterday confirmed Australia was reviewing=20
its relations with Burma, but said it was too early to=20
say if closer ties would result.
"We are reviewing our relations with Myanmar (Burma)=20
and this will be a factor in that assessment," Senator=20
McMullan said. "But it is very early days yet. We have=20
to see how lasting this change is, how genuine it is."
Australia has maintained an arms embargo against Burma=20
since 1988 and has a policy of neither encouraging nor=20
discouraging trade and investment with Rangoon.
Senator McMullan said the Burmese Government needed to=20
take further action, including releasing all remaining=20
political prisoners, promoting democratic reforms and=20
reconciliation with minority groups.
The Australian Government is expected to finalise its=20
policy towards Burma before next month's Association of=20
South East Asian Nations forum in Brunei.
Between 1988 and 1984 Australia tried unsuccessfully to=20
persuade ASEAN nations to take a harder line against=20
Burma and abandon the ASEAN policy of "constructive=20
engagement" with Rangoon.
But at last year's forum in Bangkok, the Minister for=20
Foreign Affairs, Senator Evans, softened his stance=20
towards Burma on the grounds that international=20
isolations of that country had proved unproductive.
Senator Evans even considered a visit to Burma late=20
last year amid speculation that the SLORC was about to=20
release Ms Suu Kyi.
However the Foreign Minister's plans to visit Burma and=20
possibly ease Australia's policy towards that country=20
were scrapped earlier this year after the regime=20
refused to release Ms Suu Kyi and renewed its bloody=20
offensive against the Karen ethnic minority near the=20
Thai border.
The continued sensitivity of Australia=92s ties with=20
Burma were highlighted in February when Senator Evans=20
rebuked former Prime Minister Mr Bob Hawke for failing=20
to raise human rights during a business trip to Burma.
The release of Ms Suu Kyi took the Australian=20
Government by surprise, with Senator Evans saying as=20
recently as last month that he was not optimistic about=20
an early release of Ms Suu Kyi.
Senator McMullan said Australia and Senator Evans--who=20
had campaigned strongly for Ms Suu Kyi's release--
deserved some credit for the SLORC's decision.
"We should not overstate our position and pretend that=20
we did it single-handed, but we should not be ashamed=20
to say that Australia, and Senator Evans in particular,=20
made our small contribution to this step forward in our=20
region," Senator McMullan said.

Ms Suu Kyi's surprise release sparked an international=20
chorus greeting the 1991 Nobel laureate's freedom.
But the comments from the United States President, Mr=20
Clinton, welcoming Ms Suu Kyi's release also offered=20
the hope of greater rewards for the junta.
Washington continues to hold the veto power over=20
Rangoon's access to fresh World Bank and other=20
international development funding.
President Clinton "expressed gratification that the=20
efforts of the international community had finally=20
secured her release."
Wed July 12
By Susan Horsburgh
AUSTRALIA'S Burmese community welcomed the release of=20
dissident leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, but jubilance was=20
tempered with cynicism yesterday as many feared the=20
move was a hollow public relations exercise.
The secretary of the Overseas Burma Liberation Front=20
and Australian representative for the Democratic=20
Alliance of Burma, Mr Philip Smyth, said the military=20
government's seemingly soft stance should be greeted=20
with scepticism.
"They have released her but there's 40 others sitting=20
in prison... Is she going to be released and arrested=20
tomorrow?" he asked. "No one trusts the SLORC (State=20
Law and Order Restoration Council) regime. SLORC does=20
not do things out of the goodness of their heart. They=20
have got a plan somewhere."
Since her arrest on July 20, 1989, the international=20
community has pushed for Ms Suu Kyi's release. Now, the=20
Burmese junta has responded, allowing her to go=20
anywhere like an ordinary citizen and meet anyone as=20
long as she does not break any laws.
But Mr Smyth said the military rulers--under pressure=20
from China and the United States--were aiming more for=20
a good international image rather than any constructive=20
reforms towards democracy.
Mr Smyth, one of 9398 Burmese living in Australia,=20
described Ms Suu Kyi as an "icon of democracy" whose=20
presence has kept the promise of democracy alive in=20
Burma, but he doubted whether her release would=20
necessarily spark a resurgence in the pro-democracy=20
"The military is on every street corner. You still have=20
all the military intelligence checking everyone out so=20
anything that is done...will be nipped in the bud very=20
quickly--unless there could be a spontaneous uprising.=20
But I think SLORC has most probably taken all sorts of=20
measures on that," he said.
Amnesty International said hundreds of political=20
prisoners remained in jail and human rights violations=20
A climate of fear has prevailed since the military's=20
crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since 1989.
Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be=20
forced to work on big construction projects and in=20
areas where ethnic minority opposition groups are=20
active, forced porterage, torture and killings continue=20
unabated, Amnesty said.