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US Congress Passes Legislation to Tighten Sanctions on Burma - 2003-07-16


The U.S. Senate has given final approval by a 94-1 vote to legislation that would tighten sanctions on the military government in Burma. The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, now goes to President Bush for his signature.

The measure would ban imports from Burma, freeze Burmese assets in the United States and require the United States to oppose World Bank or International Monetary Fund loans to Burma.

It would also extend a visa ban to the Rangoon-controlled Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA).

Passage of the measure was in large part a response to the continued detention of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She was detained May 30 following a clash between opposition activists and government supporters.

"The message from the U.S. Congress to the world could not be more clear: the assault on freedom in Burma will not stand," said Senator Mitch McConnell, (R-Kentucky), the bill's chief sponsor.

The sanctions are subject to an annual congressional review, and have been authorized for the next three years. But they could end immediately with a certification from President Bush that the Burmese military government has made "substantial and measurable progress" toward reaching an agreement with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to transfer power.

The NLD won the country's last election in 1990 by a landslide, but was never allowed to take power.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is the rightful democratically elected leader of Burma, and the military junta has to release her and her followers," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The Burmese government has condemned the bill, saying it would bring hardship to the Burmese people. But Burmese in exile and democracy activists have welcomed it.

The legislation also calls on nations in the region to do more to press for democratic change in Burma.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, appealed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. "Friends of ASEAN want to see it take concrete steps to prove its relevance to security and stability in Southeast Asia. I would remind my colleagues that when ASEAN admitted Burma into ASEAN it was with the promise and commitment that things would improve in Burma," he said. "No one can argue that there has been anything but retrogression and an increase in brutality, and the latest outrage in the capture and mistreatment of their freely elected leader."

The United States ended aid to Burma following the 1988 suppression of democracy demonstrations. Eight years later, Congress banned new U.S. investment in the country.

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