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Updated: February 8, 2010 15:32 IST

Australia to boost Myanmar aid but keep sanctions

AP
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Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. File photo: AP.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. File photo: AP.

Australia will inject more humanitarian aid into Myanmar but maintain sanctions until the Southeast Asian nation’s military junta significantly improves how it treats its people, a top official said on Monday.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said his country would ramp up aid to impoverished Myanmar over three years from 30 million Australian dollars ($26 million) in the current fiscal year to AU$50 million a year.

But Australia agreed with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that removing international sanctions against Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, would send the regime the “wrong signal,” he said

“Australia has long been appalled both by the Burmese military suppression of the democratic aspirations of the Burmese people and by its disrespect for their human rights,” Mr. Smith told Parliament.

“Until we see significant change from Burma’s authorities, Australia will maintain a policy of targeted financial sanctions,” he added.

He welcomed Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s offer in September last year to work with the junta to persuade the international community to lift sanctions.

He also called for the regime to release Ms. Suu Kyi and another 2,000 political prisoners so that they could take part in elections promised for this year.

Mr. Smith said donor nations had to start helping Myanmar rebuild its crumbling economic and social infrastructure because some day it will be ruled by a civilian government.

“This is not a reward for Burma’s military, but a recognition of the immense task faced by current and future generations of Burmese,” Mr. Smith said.

“Burma’s capacity cannot be allowed to completely atrophy to the ultimate disadvantage and cost of its people,” he added.

Australia imposed travel sanctions against members of the regime after the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and banned defence exports to Myanmar after the regime failed to acknowledge the election of Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party at the 1990s elections.

Australia’s financial sanctions followed the military’s violent response to pro-democracy rallies in 2007.

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