US Envoy to Burma Says Peace Needed if Sanctions Are to Be Lifted

By Patrick Boehler 15 March 2013

The full suspension of sanctions imposed on Burma by the United States hinges on addressing ongoing US concerns over ethnic conflicts, the release of political prisoners and an end to the country’s longstanding ties with North Korea, the US special representative for Burma W. Patrick Murphy said in an interview in Rangoon on Thursday.

“It is going to require action here in the country,” he said. “The completion of efforts to release political prisoners, to ensure human rights for all in the country, whether citizen or not, to achieve national reconciliation and to sever the military relationship with North Korea.”

Murphy made his remarks as he briefly stopped in Rangoon on his way from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka to Naypyidaw. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya population and ethnic violence in Arakan State are at top of his agenda for the visit.

“This issue has taken on an international dimension recently,” he said. “We are very, very concerned.”

During Murphy’s stay in Dhaka on Wednesday, the US embassy there announced the inauguration of the first of 30 US-sponsored “Coastal Crisis Management Centers” in Bangladesh, which would help with humanitarian relief and tackle crime along the sea border.

The career diplomat said he will be travelling to Sittwe in Arakan State on Saturday to underline US concerns over ongoing tensions between ethnic Rohingya and Arakanese there, only days after a visit by US Ambassador Derek Mitchell.

“The point is that we want to certainly demonstrate from a Washington perspective that the United States cares very much about the Rakhine [Arakanese] situation,” he said.

Efforts to deal with the conflict that has uprooted some 115,000 civilians since last year are being made by the Burmese government, Murphy conceded.

“We are very encouraged that President Thein Sein has talked about durable solutions, including citizenship for residents in Rakhine [Arakan] State who currently lack citizenship,” he said. “We are also very much supportive of the efforts to provide immediate security.”

When asked, Murphy did not rule out the possibility that the United States would play a role in monitoring a ceasefire in Kachin State, if both the Burmese armed forces and the Kachin rebels made a request for assistance.

“We want to be as helpful as possible,” he said, adding that the US has not heard yet from the two parties after they held two days of talks in the Chinese border town Ruili earlier this week. If there were any requests, he said, “we’ll take that on board and give them due consideration.”

In cautiously chosen words, Murphy hinted at a failure by the Burmese government to provide sufficient evidence that it had ended military ties with North Korea.

“We very much hope to be in a position to accept a declaration that the military relationship between the two countries has been severed,” Murphy said.

He reiterated US statements that the complete lifting of sanctions was a “complicated undertaking.”

While reforms were underway, he said, “we need to get to the next stage.”