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US Lawmakers Vote to Extend Sanctions Against Burma

U.S. lawmakers have been commenting on the situation in Burma as the U.S. Congress advanced legislation to strengthen and renew unilateral U.S. economic sanctions against the Burmese military government. More from VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill.

The House of Representatives voted to extend U.S. trade sanctions against Burma's military government for one year, as companion legislation moved ahead in a Senate committee.

Sanctions prohibiting U.S. imports from Burma were first put into place in 2003, as a U.S. response to the refusal of Burma's military go restore democracy and improve human rights conditions.

In Wednesday's floor debate, Democrats and Republicans rose to support the extension, citing the Burmese military's use of force against democracy demonstrators last year, and its initial blocking of international relief aid for cyclone victims.

"While there can be concerns about the universal effectiveness of unilateral sanctions, Burma clearly presents a unique situation. There is overwhelming evidence that Burma continues to blatantly disregard HR (human rights) and suppress democracy and it is therefore important to continue the important ban for another yearm" said Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

Republican Wally Herger describes himself as a skeptic where sanctions are concerned, suggesting that the U.S. import ban does not appear to have pushed Burma's military toward democracy and greater respect for human rights.

Despite this, he says U.S. sanctions must continue because the situation has been getting worse rather than better. "That said, in light of the events of the past year I believe we have no choice but to continue these sanctions, not only to remind Burma's leaders that their actions are inexcusable but also to communicate to the impoverished Burmese people that we have not abandoned their cause," he said.

In addition to moving toward renewal of the U.S. import ban, Congress has acted on the Burmese JADE Act, which closes a gap relating to gem stones reaching the U.S from Burma through third countries.

Approved by the Senate Tuesday after earlier House passage, that measure also makes members of Burma's ruling military government along with other military officials and family members ineligible for U.S. visas.

At the same time, lawmakers stopped short of including a stronger provision that would have required the U.S. Chevron company to give up its share of the Yadana natural gas project in Burmese waters.

Instead, the JADE Act contains only non-binding language urging Chevron to consider divestment from the project if the military government does not move toward democratic and other reforms.

Burma also came up in a separate House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing focusing on China and the 2008 Olympics.

There, Republican Dana Rohrabacher criticized Beijing for its support of Burma's military and its involvement in such places as Sudan. "Let's note, why is the dictatorship in Burma in place? Because of the dictatorship in Beijing. Burma is a vassal state of the Chinese Communist party," he said.

The primary House sponsor of U.S. import ban legislation, Democrat Joseph Crowley, called Wednesday for the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) and the European Union to do more to step up financial and other pressure on Burma's military.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told ASEAN leaders meeting in Singapore that it is in the organization's interest to press Burmese military rulers to begin a dialogue with democracy leaders.