September 29, 2008 / 4:36 PM / in 11 years

Myanmar urges end to "unfair and immoral" sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Myanmar could be the rice bowl of the region and help alleviate a food and energy crisis if “unfair and immoral” sanctions were lifted, Myanmar’s foreign minister told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

Workers carry sacks of rice in Myanmar's capital Yangon in this picture taken December 12, 2004. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Myanmar over the suppression of opposition to the military junta, which drew widespread condemnation a year ago for a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by monks.

On Saturday, a U.N. group on Myanmar vowed to keep the world spotlight on the troubled country and to press the military rulers of the former Burma to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The “Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar” said Myanmar’s junta must comply with resolutions calling for the release of political prisoners and reconciliation to end a nearly 20-year political stalemate.

“Powerful countries should refrain from practicing hegemonic policies, either through political or economic pressures,” Foreign Minister Nyan Win said in his speech to the world body on Monday.

He said unilateral sanctions were unwarranted, illegal, unfair, immoral and counterproductive.

“My own country has the potential to contribute to energy and food security of our region,” he said, noting that soaring prices of fuel and food, particularly staples such as rice, were putting a heavy burden on developing countries.

He said Myanmar had successfully replanted rice fields that were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May, was making efforts to raise production of crude oil and natural gas and had “huge” potential to produce hydro-electric power.

“The sooner the unjust sanctions are revoked and the barriers removed, the sooner will the country be in a position to become the rice bowl of the region and a reliable source of energy,” Nyan Win said.

At least 31 people were killed and some 3,000 were arrested in the military crackdown a year ago. Human rights groups say as many as 700 people remain behind bars, although the junta says all but a few dozen have been released.

The U.N. Security Council has urged Myanmar to release all political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

Nyan Win made no mention of her. He said Myanmar was implementing a 7-step “road-map to democracy” and urged the international community to respect the will of the people expressed in a May referendum on an army-drafted constitution.

The result, an overwhelming endorsement of the constitution, was condemned by Western countries and Myanmar opposition figures as a sham.

Editing by Patrick Markey

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