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US Tightens Burma Sanctions

President Bush has signed bills to renew and extend sanctions on Burma in hopes of prodding the country's military junta towards democracy and greater respect for human rights. From the White House, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

For five years, the United States has banned imports from Burma to protest its suppression of democracy, including the continued house arrest of pro-reform activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

President Bush has signed legislation extending the ban, as well as a separate bill prohibiting the importation of Burmese gemstones through third countries.

Mr. Bush made brief remarks before signing the bills.

"On the Burmese regime, our message is: the United States believes in democracy and freedom," he said.

Standing behind the president was First Lady Laura Bush and several members of Congress. Also attending the ceremony were family members of late U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, a long-time champion of human rights in Burma.

In an interview with VOA last year, Lantos, who was outspoken on human rights in Burma and elsewhere, urged Burma's military rulers to abandon violence and oppression. He also expressed hope that some in the country's military ranks are supportive of reform. The gemstone bill is named after him.

Burma's government has been criticized for impeding foreign aid shipments in the aftermath of a May cyclone that left more than 100,000 people dead or missing. Last year's crackdown on protests by Buddhist monks brought widespread international condemnation.

Asked whether sanctions are an effective tool to bring about change in Burma, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said they can be effective, and that the United States is working unilaterally and multilaterally to make sure they are.