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EU sanctions to stay as activist is

Subject: EU sanctions to stay as activist is jailed

Sydney Morning Herald
EU sanctions to stay as activist is jailed
Date: 17/02/99

By CRAIG SKEHAN in Bangkok

A Burmese democracy activist has been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail with
hard labour, increasing pressure on the European Union to maintain sanctions
against the country's repressive regime.

The sentencing of 51-year-old U Yaw Hsi, on what critics maintain was a
blatantly trumped-up drugs charge, is the latest in a spate of long prison
terms imposed on members of the country's National League for Democracy
(NLD), and comes at a particularly sensitive time.

Diplomatic initiatives are being pursued in an effort to avoid an EU ban on
representatives of the military regime attending ministerial talks in Berlin
next month.

Members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are scheduled
to discuss a range of development issues, including aid flows.

But Britain has maintained that it will veto Burmese participation because
the junta has not improved its appalling human rights record. There also is
an ongoing ban on EU members issuing visas to senior Burmese officials.

ASEAN has so far insisted that Burma, which was allowed into the regional
grouping in 1997, be allowed to attend the Berlin ministerial talks.

But with a crackdown under way against members of Burma's pro-democracy
movement, prospects for resolving the impasse appear slight and the
gathering appears likely to be postponed indefinitely.

U Yaw Hsi, elected to an aborted 1990 national parliament, was arrested at
his home in October. Police seized a cloth, soaked in opium oil, which is
used as a traditional treatment for dysentery and other stomach disorders.

Such small pieces of cloth are commonly kept by people in the area for
medical use and have nothing to do with narcotics abuse, supporters of U Yaw
Hsi said yesterday.

They said his conviction was ironic given that a number of foreign
governments had accused senior figures in the military regime of involvement
in large-scale heroin trafficking. The All Burma Students' Democratic Front
said yesterday that a myriad of technical violations of the law had been
used by the country's security forces to incarcerate opponents of the junta.

In one case, an NLD stalwart was arrested for illegally possessing foreign
currency after a raiding party of police found two Singaporean coins among
his children's toys.

While the Burmese Government has, during recent months, released several
well-known dissidents who had already spent years behind bars, hundreds of
others have been arrested and imprisoned.

The junta has said it intends to introduce a new constitution this year in
preparation for national elections to be held next year.

But the NLD said the constitution, based on the presidential model which
kept Indonesia's President Suharto in power for more than three decades, was
designed to entrench Burma's military rule.