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Thailand Comes Under Criticism in US Congress Over Burma Policies


A leading U.S. Senator has sharply criticized Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries for their failure to bring adequate pressure on Burma's military government. John McCain spoke as the Thai Prime Minister arrived in Washington for talks with President Bush, and the Senate prepares to take up legislation calling for a ban on all U.S. imports from Burma.

Senator McCain took to the floor of the Senate to blast Thailand's government for what he called its "coddling of Rangoon," saying Bangkok's policies in recent years have "approached active sponsorship" of Burma's military.

Thailand's Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, will be meeting President Bush in Washington this week, and also has talks scheduled with congressional leaders.

Senator McCain's remarks were aimed not only at Mr. Thaksin and the Thai government, but at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN):

"As long as Burma, an ASEAN member since 1997, is held captive by the generals, destabilizing the region and attracting precisely the kind of international sanctions Southeast Asian leaders would like to avoid," he said, "and as long as these leaders do little or nothing about it, Southeast Asia will remain little more than the sum of its parts and ASEAN will have little enduring relevance."

Senator McCain says Secretary of State Colin Powell should condition his attendance at upcoming ASEAN meetings in Phnom Penh on the ASEAN agreement to place Burma at the top of its agenda, and issue a "forceful" condemnation of Burma's military and its detention of Aung San Suu Kyi:

"Secretary Powell should condition his visit to Phnom Penh on an ASEAN agenda that addresses the rot at the heart of the organization the decaying dictatorship in Rangoon," he said.

ASEAN, added Mr. McCain, has been constructively engaging and abetting tyranny in Burma.

Mr. Thaksin will have an opportunity to hear some of what Mr. McCain called "a barrage of questions and criticism" concerning Burma when the Thai leader meets congressional leaders Tuesday.

Although Thailand initially said it viewed recent events in Burma with concern, Prime Minister Thaksin later issued a stronger statement calling for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senator McCain says he hopes the Senate can move as early as Tuesday to take up new legislation that would prohibit imports from Burma and expand a ban on visas to members of a Rangoon military-controlled organization, the Union Solidarity Development Association, or USDA.

The Bush administration was working with lawmakers on that legislation, which would expand U.S. restrictions that already included a prohibition on new investment in Burma by U.S. companies.

A senior official of Burma's ruling military said it would not be intimidated by the threat of new sanctions.

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