International sanctions are an iffy prospect, but selective purchasing bans might exert some pressure on the ruling generals
President Clinton was right to sharply criticize the junta that governs Burma (called Myanmar by its steely military rulers). In Thailand, Mr. Clinton accused the junta of profiting from drug smuggling. Official US sanctions, or a selective boycott, are possible policy options for Washington.
Forty-five million Burmese have long been denied civil liberties and human rights by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), a harsh military junta that annulled the democratic elections of 1990 and resists all efforts to send it back to the barracks. Television and print journalists have filmed and written accounts of SLORC's persistent use of compulsory labor, including forced child labor, to construct roads, gas pipelines, and other projects.
Burma remains with Afghanistan the poorest country in Asia. Most of the military commanders of SLORC, however, flaunt their wealth, some of it derived from heroin and opium trafficking.
Congressional legislation passed in September permits Mr. Clinton to ban American investment in Burma if there is "large-scale repression" or if Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy activist whose party was barred from office when the military annulled a 1990 election, is harmed physically. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and others want more, and have called for broad-based US sanctions to pressure the junta to ease Burma back toward participatory government. Ms. Suu Kyi favors sanctions.
SLORC seeks to be accepted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is its most cherished foreign policy goal. Until SLORC's recent excesses, further repressing Suu Kyi's democracy movement, it appeared that Indonesia and Singapore would help bring SLORC in from the cold. This month, several ASEAN leaders spoke more cautiously. Clinton needs to reiterate that his Asian counterparts must reward only positive moves by SLORC.