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The Wall Street Journal - Noninterference in Burma is Not an Option

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The Wall Street Journal

Noninterference In Burma Is Not an Option

Burma, a primary source of narcotics in Asia and the world's second largest producer of opium, poses an immediate and growing threat to the region.

As a repressive and illegitimate military junta with a long track record of human-rights abuses that rivals the Taliban, the State Peace and Development Council in Rangoon poses a clear and present danger to the people of Burma. The policy of noninterference by Burma's neighbors and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ensures that illicit drugs, HIV/AIDS, and refugees continue to spill across its borders.

While regional governments bury their heads in the sand to the Burmese threat, Asia's drug addicted and HIV/AIDS infected sons and daughters bury their hopes for a promising future.

In Thailand, an estimated three million people were addicted to amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) last year. According to the U.S. State Department, Burma-produced ATS enters Thailand across the northern, northwestern and western land borders.

In China, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission Luo Feng admitted earlier this year that his country's biggest drug source remained the Golden Triangle, and that illicit drug abuse contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and social instability in China. By some estimates, as many as 10 million Chinese could be infected with the HIV/AIDS virus within the next six years.

In India, the former health and family welfare minister of Mizoram state, F. Malsawma, last year advocated sealing its borders with Burma to stem the flow of illicit drugs. The minister indicated that these drugs were sold at a cheaper price to create a market among India's youth. According to the U.S. State Department, one of the four major categories of traffickers in India includes indigenous tribal groups in the northeastern states that maintain ties to Burmese trafficking organizations.

And in Cambodia, official statistics reveal a 60% increase in drug-user arrests from 2002 to 2003. According to the United Nations, some 100,000 methamphetamines tablets from the Golden Triangle are trafficked into Cambodia each day, along with 10-20 kilograms of heroin.

The future for Burma's youth is similarly bleak. Denied the most basic of human rights by the repressive regime-including education and health care-the Burmese people endure forced labor, rape, and conscription. Those who dare speak out against the SPDC and its abuses are harassed, imprisoned, or killed. Few realize that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 internally displaced persons in Burma today.

In May 1990, the people of Burma spoke in favor of freedom and overwhelmingly elected the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in parliamentary polls. Their voices fell on deaf ears in Rangoon, and the military junta refused to relinquish power.

In May 2003, the SPDC ambushed Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD in Depayin, killing and wounding scores of innocent Burmese. Held incommunicado for a period of time, Ms. Suu Kyi and other senior NLD leaders were later arrested, and today they-and some 1,500 prisoners of conscience-remain imprisoned for nonviolently championing freedom and justice for the Burmese people.

Courageously boycotting the May 17 constitutional charade organized by the SPDC, the NLD recently called upon United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take the matter to the Security Council. The U.N.-and the world-cannot allow their brave voices to fall upon deaf ears any longer.

What should be done? First, the region should wake up to the immediate challenge Burma poses to stability in their respective countries. For the sake of Asia's youth, the destructive policy of noninterference should be discarded in favor of intervention. In 2006, Burma is expected to assume chairmanship of Asean; there could be no greater loss of face to that association or the region.

Asean should give the SPDC a clear choice: immediately enter into a meaningful reconciliation process with the equal, full and unfettered participation of the NLD and ethnic minorities in Burma or face expulsion from the regional grouping. This will require the release of Ms. Suu Kyi and all prisoners of conscience.

Second, the U.N. Security Council should heed the NLD's pleas and examine the clear and present danger Burma poses to the region. This must include a discussion of Burma's narcotics production and trafficking; the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the region from drug use and prostitution; the junta's use of child soldiers, forced labor, trafficking in persons, and rape as a weapon of war; the welfare of Burmese refugees in Thailand; and reports of SPDC interests in North Korean missiles and Russian nuclear technology.

NLD spokesman U Lwin recently said, "The ball is now in the court of the U.N. . . . we'll have to see what Kofi Annan will do." All who courageously champion freedom in Burma deserve more than just lip-service from the U.N. As U Lwin rightly points out "The U.N. cannot just release statements [calling for Suu Kyi's release] without implementing them."

Following this long overdue discussion on Burma, the Security Council should act to impose sanctions against the illegitimate junta in Rangoon.

Finally, the European Union should join the United States in imposing a ban on imports from Burma. Rock star and activist Bono-who supports such a ban-is right to be "ashamed" of Europe's lack of support for the struggle of freedom in Burma.

European democrats would be wise to listen to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said earlier this year: "To dismantle apartheid [in South Africa] took not only commitment, faith and hard work, but also intense international pressure and sanctions. In Burma, the regime has ravaged the country, and the people, to fund its illegal rule. Governments and international institutions must move past symbolic gestures and cut the lifelines to Burma's military regime through well-implemented sanctions."

The Bush administration must continue to push for a multilateral response from its European allies and regional partners. If Asean, the U.N. and the EU fail to act, Asia's youth will pay the price.

Sen. McConnell is the U.S. Senate majority whip. Sen. Feinstein is ranking member of the Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security Subcommittee and a member of the Intelligence Committee.

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