By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS: Nine Nobel peace laureates called on the U.N. Security Council and the international community on Tuesday to impose arms and banking sanctions on Myanmar for failing to move toward democracy.
Myanmar's military rulers had "made no overtures and no progress on national reconciliation" despite their people's desire for change, said a statement by the laureates, led by South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"They continue their refusal to engage the Burmese (Myanmar) people and ethnic groups in substantive, meaningful dialogue," said the statement, distributed by the U.S. Campaign for Burma which opposes the Myanmar government.
The statement, also signed by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, appealed to members of the Security Council and the international community to rapidly adopt measures to prevent the sale of arms to the Myanmar military.
It also called for a ban on banking transactions targeting top Myanmar leaders as well as state and private entities that supported the government's weapons trade.
Many Western countries including the United States, members of the European Union and Australia already maintain economic and military sanctions on Myanmar.
The Security Council issued a statement in October calling on the junta to release political prisoners and hold a dialogue with the opposition following a crackdown the previous month on monk-led pro-democracy protests.
But prospects of the council imposing sanctions, which would have worldwide effect, are dim because of strong opposition by Myanmar's neighbor and trade partner China, which has a veto in the council.
Beijing restated its position on Tuesday during a visit by U.N. Myanmar envoy Ibrahim Gambari. "At this time, pressure and sanctions cannot solve any problems," a Foreign Ministry spokesman cited Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi as telling him.
Myanmar activists say China is the country's top arms supplier and others include Ukraine, Poland, India and Russia.
Earlier this month, Myanmar's ruling generals announced a referendum on a new, as yet unfinished, constitution in May, to be followed by a general election in 2010.
But opposition leaders and some Western countries voiced skepticism that the opposition would be allowed to compete in the vote and the Nobel laureates described the junta's "road map" to democracy and constitutional process as flawed.
Apart from Tutu and the Dalai Lama, the signatories were Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams of Northern Ireland, Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala and Elie Wiesel and Jody Williams of the United States.
Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself won the Nobel peace prize in 1991.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)