Peter Alford; 14/8/09
Burma’s reclusive head of state, Than Shwe, will meet a senior US senator who is helping shape the Obama administration’s Southeast Asia policy – a signal that, in spite of again imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the regime could respond to American outreach. Senator Jim Webb, a strong critic of the sanctions-first approach of the previous two administrations, is expected in Burma this weekend during his fact-finding tour of Southeast Asia. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia and Pacific sub-committee, Senator Webb is likely to be talking to Than Shwe as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unofficial envoy. At the ASEAN regional forum in Phuket, Thailand, last month, Mrs Clinton called for “a creative way” of dealing with Burma, a full member of the Southeast Asian grouping, but hampered by US, EU and Australian trade, travel and investment sanctions.
Karens Flee Scorched-Earth Policy
Concerted drives by the Burmese army against Karen guerrillas have displaced up to 30,000 people in eastern Burma, Western relief workers say. The army, in a bid to deprive the separatist Karen National Union fighters of their support base, has in recent months been using scorched-earth tactics in the hills lying between the Sittang and Bilin rivers, say the workers, who are based in Thailand but help refugees across the border. Village after village has been burned and the Karen inhabitants have fled to the surrounding hills. The relief workers are worried about the Karens’ welfare and say many are starving and suffering from disease, including malaria, typhoid and diarrhoea. The Karen National Union is one of the few ethnic rebel armies in Burma that hasn’t reached a ceasefire with the government. It has several thousand guerrillas in the eastern hills. The war has forced more than 100,000 civilians to seek refuge in Thai camps and the Burmese army’s current push could trigger a fresh influx.