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US House Approves Extension of Ban on Imports from Burma

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a one year renewal of a ban on imports from Burma. Burma was also the topic of remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate where a Republican senator discussed remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about military cooperation between Burma and North Korea.

In extending the import ban, lawmakers cited oppression by the ruling military government, and what the U.S. and other countries have called a sham trial of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The import prohibition is contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act Congress approved in 2003 and also applies to direct or third country imports of jade and gemstones from Burma.

New York Democrat Joseph Crowley sponsored the measure renewing the ban, which was approved by voice vote. He referred to the Burmese military government's rejection of diplomatic efforts aimed at obtaining Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

"The junta has also rejected recent diplomatic outreach which would have been well-received in the global community," said Joseph Crowley. "Specifically the junta refused U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon's request to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the non-violent movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. Not only did the junta refuse Aung San Suu Kyi's release, they even refused Ban ki-Moon's request to meet with her. The Burmese regime must be stopped."

Texas Republican Kevin Brady said while the best hope for change in Burma remains multilateral action, the U.S. must maintain sanctions.

"I view import sanctions with great skepticism and always have," said Kevin Brady. "But these Burma sanctions are crafted to maximize their ability to effect change."

Burma was also a topic of discussion in the U.S. Senate where an amendment on North Korea was being considered as part of defense authorization legislation.

The amendment by Republican Sam Brownback proposed placing North Korea back on the official U.S. government list of nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism, and would have placed the Senate on record supporting "meaningful consequences" for hostile and provocative actions.

North Korea was removed from the list in the waning days of the Bush administration and the Obama administration has been considering whether to re-designate it.

To a list including North Korea's resumed nuclear activities, missile proliferation, and imprisonment of two American journalists, Brownback added Secretary Clinton's remarks in Bangkok, Thailand expressing concern about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma.

"Here is today's Washington Post, this is even new information that I was finding shocking what is taking place, about North Korea building mysterious military ties with the military junta in Burma now taking place and the possibility of them giving military equipment and supplies, I suppose even nuclear arms and missile technology to the military government in Burma," said Sam Brownback.

In her remarks in Bangkok, Secretary Clinton said the U.S. takes seriously growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which she said would be destabilizing for the region and a direct threat to Burma's neighbors.
Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Brownback's amendment would complicate and undermine delicate diplomatic efforts underway regarding North Korea, including steps to secure the release of American journalists Laura Ling, right, and Euna Lee.

Kerry said the success the U.S. and other nations had in turning around a North Korean ship suspected of carrying arms or other materials from North Korea to Burma demonstrates that such efforts can be effective.

"A North Korean ship suspected of carrying arms to Burma turned around, after it was denied bunkering services in Singapore," said John Kerry. "And the government of Burma itself warned that the ship would be inspected on arrival to insure that it complied with the U.N. arms embargo. So, that is real, that is happening."

News reports quoted U.S. officials traveling with Secretary Clinton as saying concerns about Burma and North Korea extend to possible nuclear cooperation, but said information about this is incomplete.

Burma is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires international inspections of any nuclear facilities. Burma signed an agreement with Russia in 2007 for construction of a nuclear research center and 10 megawatt light-water nuclear reactor, which experts said could not be used to develop nuclear weapons and would be subject to inspection.

The Obama administration has been conducting a review of U.S. policy toward Burma, but a final report was delayed, in part to await the outcome of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's trial on charges, widely condemned by the internationally community, of violating the terms of her detention.