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Powell: US Supports Renewal of Sanctions Against Burma - 2004-04-09


Secretary of State Colin Powell told Senators Thursday he supports a renewal of U-S economic sanctions against Burma despite recent conciliatory political moves by that country's military government.

There have been calls from legislators in both parties in Congress to maintain the sanctions against the Burmese junta, which continues to keep democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

And while he did not elaborate in his Senate testimony, Mr. Powell answered in the affirmative when asked whether he supports an extension of the economic penalties, which are up for renewal in July.

The tough sanctions bill, approved by Congress in July of last year, bans imports from Burma until the President can determine that Burma has made "measurable and substantial progress" toward implementing democracy and ending violations of internationally-recognized human rights.

The Burmese military leadership has drawn support from some countries in the region for the "road map" to democracy it unveiled last year, and its invitation this week to opposition parties to attend the national political convention it plans to hold May 17th.

But at Thursday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, the panel chairman - Republican Mitch McConnell - said the actions are insufficient to merit a lifting of sanctions, even if the junta should decide in the coming days to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

"It is really simply not enough for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released, or that she be given a last-minute seat at the table," he said. "We can pretend that the State Peace and Development Council is serious about a constitutional convention, as Thailand seems to be intent on doing. But I hope we will not have short or selective memories when it comes to that subject."

Senator McConnell said the Burmese regime should be held accountable for the mob attack by government supporters against a motorcade carrying Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy Party last May, which Burmese dissident sources say left dozens of people dead.

He said the Bush administration should "renew and re-invigorate" sanctions, and press for a step-up of similar penalties by U.S. European allies.

The Republican Senator said he is troubled by indications that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank "are keen on re-engaging in Burma," and he warned that no funding for them would be forthcoming from his subcommittee if they did so.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, has been under various forms of detention for most of the time since 1990, when her party scored a landslide win in parliamentary elections but was barred from taking power by the military leadership.

Burmese authorities have complained that the U.S. sanctions, which halted 350-million dollars a year in textile and other exports, have caused wide-spread economic hardship in the poverty-ridden country.

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