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Trade could equal pressure for Myanmar

June 3, 2013 at 12:39 PM

WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- The heavy hand of the military in Myanmar may be at the heart of the country's developmental woes, political observers say.

Myanmar began a series of democratic reforms in 2010, ending years of military leadership. Members of the international community eased economic pressure in response though human rights groups say it may be too early to start rewarding Myanmar.

Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and David Williams, director of the university's Center for Constitutional Democracy, wrote in The Washington Post that trade deals with Myanmar could be used as leverage.

President Obama met recently with delegates from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to make the case for foreign investment.

"President Obama has repeatedly called for the release of political prisoners and an end to sectarian violence against Burmese Muslims," they write. "Yet these concerns are only part of the problem."

Violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims, coupled with ongoing fighting in the northern states of Rakhine and Kachin, has overshadowed some of Myanmar's reforms.

Hamilton and Williams said the military holds too much power despite political reforms.

"It may be premature to try to reduce the military's power because there is still a risk of a coup," they write. "But it is not too soon, and may soon be too late, to amend the constitution to address the concerns of Burma's ethnic minorities."

Both scholars have served as advisers for the pro-democracy party in Myanmar through their respective Indiana University centers.

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