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Burma Criticized in US for Doing Little to Move Toward Democracy - 2004-03-26


Bush administration officials, members of Congress and human rights activists say Burma's military government has done little to move toward democracy in recent months. They are calling for the renewal of stricter economic sanctions put in place last year after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was re-detained.

An elected member of Burma's parliament who says she fled her country for fear of being killed has little good news to report. Daw San San told members of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday that the ruling military government continues its scheme to create an illusion of democratic change, while oppressing the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

"We are calling for the tripartite dialogue among the military, NLD and ethnic nationalities. The military regime is the one who continuously is rejecting this call for peace, unity and transition," she said.

Ms. Daw San San told a House International Relations Committee that the Burmese people continue to die from lack of clean water, while the regime spends tens of millions of dollars on military jets and tanks.

U.S. assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Lorne Craner, said the State Department found that in 2003, the Burmese government's record in some cases worsened.

"The junta suppresses political dissent through persecution, censorship, imprisonment, beatings and disappearances," he said. "Security forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings and rape. They also sharply curtail religious freedom, and security forces systematically monitor citizens' movements and communications."

Mr. Craner, as well as Ms. Daw San San, called for a renewal of the sanctions imposed on Rangoon in the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act.

Last year, President Bush signed the act into law. It bans all imports from Burma, and strengthens previous sanctions, including visa restrictions on military leaders and bans on new investment by U.S. companies.

Burma's ruling military government has denounced the sanctions, saying they are aimed at creating havoc and depriving the Burmese people of health care, education and work.

But human rights activists and U.S. government officials said at the hearing that the sanctions are not the cause of the Burmese people's pain.

"It is the generals who have destroyed Burma, not sanctions," said Ms. Daw San San. "If other countries imposed the same sanctions as the U.S., it would degrade further the apparatus of the regime to control the country, thus strengthening the democracy movement."

The sponsor of last year's bill that led to the renewed sanctions, Democratic representative Tom Lantos, said he is quickly moving forward with new legislation that would renew the measures when they expire this summer.

"Burma's ruling thugs, who have direct financial ties to most enterprises in Burma, must understand that they will be unable to enrich themselves off of the American consumer until true democratic change comes to that nation," he said.

The opposition National League for Democracy has been waiting to take office since 1990, when it won a resounding victory in national elections. The military government never allowed the opposition to assume its post. The NLD's leader, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, was most recently detained last May, and remains under house arrest.

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