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Lawmakers Seek to Tighten US Sanctions Against Burma After Detention of Pro-Democracy Leader - 2003-06-05

U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation tightening sanctions against Burma, after that country's military government detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week.

Lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and Senate have introduced bills that would ban all imports from Burma, freeze U.S.-held assets and bar Burmese government officials from traveling to the United States. They also would require the Treasury Department to oppose World Bank or International Monetary Fund loans.

"I hope it sends a clear and unambiguous message to a despicable military junta that controls that country," said Senator Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat, who is a co-sponsor of the Senate measure.

The sanctions would stay in place until the president certifies several conditions. Among them, that progress has been made to end human rights abuses, that all political prisoners have been released and that an agreement has been reached between the military government and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to transfer power to a popularly elected civilian government.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won the country's last election in 1990 by a landslide, but the generals refused to hand over power.

There is growing concern about the pro-democracy leader's condition, since she was taken into what the Burmese government calls "protective custody" last Friday.

Unconfirmed reports say she suffered a broken shoulder and lacerations when pro-government demonstrators smashed the windshield of her car during clashes in northern Burma. The government says four people died in the violence, but exiled Burmese dissidents believe the death toll is closer to 70 or 80.

The government says she is in good health. Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and another co-sponsor of the legislation, is skeptical.

"Clearly, this Nobel Peace Prize-winning patriot, who has spent so much of her life trying to establish democracy in Burma, is in grave danger, and we are no closer to recognition of the election than we have been over the last 13 years," he said.

Senator McConnell expressed hope that U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, who arrives in Burma Friday, will be allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi to assess her physical health.

He also urged the Bush administration to lead an international effort to force democratic change in Burma.

He called on Secretary of State Colin Powell to put the issue at the top of his agenda when he attends a summit of southeast Asian nations in Vietnam later this month.

The senator predicts speedy action on the legislation in both the House and Senate.

The United States already has restrictions on U.S. investment in Burma and on the sale of weapons and other military equipment.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her nonviolent struggle to promote democracy, was released from house arrest last year, after 19 months in captivity. She was also detained by the government for six years ending in 1995.