Unbowed in Burma

Saturday, November 3, 2007

BURMA'S RULING generals yesterday ordered the expulsion of a senior United Nations official, again demonstrating their contempt for international opinion. The official had expressed mild criticism of the regime, which was too much for the paranoid leaders of the Southeast Asian nation. That does not mean, however, that they are impervious to influence.

A few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of Burmese, led by Buddhist monks, were peacefully demonstrating in favor of democracy. The junta lashed out in response: shutting down Internet access, raiding monasteries, rounding up thousands in nighttime raids. No one outside the regime knows how many protesters it murdered.

Amazingly, internal resistance has not ended. A few hundred monks resumed the protest Tuesday. Others have taken to the jungle to regroup. But the response from outside Burma has been less heartening. The special envoy of the U.N. secretary general has shuttled among Asian capitals in time-wasting busywork. The envoy, who is scheduled to reenter Burma today, needs to push hard the U.N. Security Council's call to the regime to free political prisoners and enter into dialogue with them. Meanwhile, China and

India, the nations with the most influence in Burma, outdo each other in appeasing the regime. Does China not worry about hosting the Olympics as the protector of one of the world's most odious regimes? Does India care nothing for its reputation as the world's largest democracy? So far, apparently not.

The Security Council should tighten sanctions, particularly by enforcing an arms embargo. But the sanctions likeliest to persuade the regime to negotiate with democratic forces are banking restrictions imposed on top officials, their relatives and the corrupt businessmen close to them. The Bush administration led the way with such sanctions; Australia stoutly followed. The question -- and it could be dispositive -- is whether Europe has the spine to join in.

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