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Time to get off the fence.

			Time to get off the fence

	East Timor is not the only human rgihts issue on which the 
Australian Government is out of step with its feted visitor of last 
month, President Bill Cliton. After leaving Australia, Mr Cliton spoke in 
Bangkok about the continuing repression by Burma's military Government, 
the State Law and Order Restoration Council, and urged concerted action 
by Asia-Pacific nations in support of Burma's most famous dissident, Ms 
Aung San Suu Kyi, and her National Laegue for Democracy.

	The President's comments were in marked constrast to those of a 
visitor to Bangkok earlier in the month, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr 
Tim Fisher, who at the time airily dismissed the possibility that 
Australia might support economic sanctions against the Rangoon regime. 
Trade sanctions - which are the principal action envisaged by President 
Clinton, and about which Ms Suu Kyi herself has chided the Australian 
Government - simply would not work, Mr Fischer said, so let that be an 
end to it.

	The reasons the Deputy Prime Minister offered for the supposed 
impracticability of sanctions - that Burma has a long coastline and 
easily penetrated land borders - are a little odd, given that the same 
could be said about South Africa. Yet sucessive Australian governments 
took part in sanctions against South Africa while apartheid was in force 
in that country. But, whether or not Burma's rulers can indeed summon an 
armada of blockade runners to make a mockery of sanctions, as Mr Fischer 
appears to imagine, is not the crucial point. What matters is whether 
Australia's Government has the generosity of spirit to respond to 
President Cliton's call and to urge other countires in the region to do 
likewise, instead of devising narrowly utilitarian reasons to justify 
inaction. As Ms Suu Kyi said about Australia's attitude to sanctions, 
after a while sitting on the fence must be extremely uncomfortable.

	Last month's intimidatory attack on Ms Suu Kyi's car by 
supporters of the regime and yesterday's arrest of hundreds of peaceful 
protesters in Rangoon are proof, for those who still need it, that 
Burma's rulers are unlikely to change while they believe they are secure. 
But that belief will depend in part on their perception of international 
opinion. The fact that Ms Suu Kyi remains alive, although harrased and 
physically under threat, is an indication that what the rest of the world 
thinks does count for something in Rangoon. It nust be hoped, for the 
sake of Ms Suu Kyi and the democratic movement she leads, that a 
reluctance to step up pressure on the part of Australia or other 
countries will not encourage the regime to believe that it has more room 
to flex its muscles than it had previously though.

[Editorial, The Age, 4 December 1996].