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Opinion: Earnest appeal to President Obama on behalf of Burma

The military junta's sham election laws and increasingly consolidated power leave only one option — and that’s you, Mr. President.

The country’s military forces have grown two-fold since 1988 to more than 500,000-strong, making it one of the largest armies in Southeast Asia — its only apparent function to imprison peaceful protesters and to assault ethnic minorities.

A few weeks ago, the junta announced a sham election law that not only ignores the international community’s concerns, but also bans dissident Aung San Suu Kyi from registering her opposition party. The U.N. Security Council met last week but failed to come up with any meaningful action toward Burma, mainly due to Chinese opposition.

This leaves us with one plausible option — and that’s you, Mr. President.

On Sept. 28, 2009, the Obama administration announced the conclusion of its Burma policy review. The administration recognized that years of broader economic sanctions had failed to produce fruitful results due to lack of collaboration from the international community, especially from the regime’s close neighbor China.

Obama’s new policy advocates dialogue with Burma while maintaining the existing sanctions. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department already has a sanctions list that prevents selected members of the regime from making financial transactions in the U.S. banking system.

In 2008, Congress passed a law that grants special authority to the Treasury Department to stipulate international banks to stop using the U.S. currency if they are doing business with the junta. I see this as a very powerful weapon that the U.S. could deploy if the administration truly wishes to bring desperately needed change to Burma.

Time is running out for the Obama’s administration to set clear objectives and produce tangible results before the state holds its joke of an election later this year. Elections will only legitimize and prolong military rule in Burma indefinitely.

Generations of human rights activists, students, writers, poets, journalists, workers, monks and nuns have already been brutally tortured, imprisoned and worse at the hands of the junta. Thousands of brave dissidents continue to endure extreme pain in prison, while others are being violently uprooted from their homes and sent to hostile camps.

Mr. President, we only have one shot to save precious human lives, to end the tyranny and bring genuine democracy to my motherland. If you mean what you say, what are you waiting for?

*Tim Aye Hardy chooses to register his opposition to the military regime by using “Burma,” the country’s name until 1989 when the regime changed it to “Myanmar.”

Tim Aye Hardy is the director of outreach at Burma Global Action Network and 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network, which aims to empower individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide.