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Burma Legislation Moves Through Congress

Legislation to tighten U.S. sanctions against Burma's military government is moving through Congress. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where the House of Representatives approved the measure in response to the crackdown on democracy protesters this past September by Burma's military.

Called JADE, for Blocking (the) Burmese Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts, the House legislation is aimed at eliminating loopholes in existing U.S. economic sanctions, and increasing pressure on the military government.

It would ban imports of Burmese jade and gemstones to the United States, with steps to ensure that gems cannot be laundered through third countries.

The measure blocks the use of U.S. financial institutions via third countries to launder money for Burmese military government leaders or their immediate family members, freezes their assets, and imposes a visa ban on Burmese officials involved in the violent suppression of protesters.

All of these are steps the Bush administration has supported since Burma's military violently suppressed democracy demonstrations led by Buddhist monks.

New York Democrat Gregory Meeks says Congress is determined to help bring about a free and democratic Burma.

"We use our liberty to stop the flow blood red rubies from Burma to the American jewelry stores," he said. "The Burmese regime might have washed the blood from the streets of Rangoon, but they have not erased the images of peaceful protesters being shot down from our minds. Today we act and we act decisively."

"This legislation provides an opportunity to send a strong, bipartisan and loud message that where human freedom is concerned, politics does in fact stop at the water's edge," said Ted Poe, a Texas Republican.

A companion measure awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate, called the Burma Democracy Promotion Act of 2007, would also take steps to eliminate loopholes allowing Burmese gems, as well as teak and other hardwoods from entering the U.S.

It would require the president to submit a list of Burmese military government officials who play or played a substantial role in political repression or human rights abuses, and subject them to financial sanctions and a visa ban.

Marking Monday's observance of International Human Rights Day, Senator Mitch McConnell used a statement to underscore the commitment of lawmakers to increase pressure on Burma's military.

"We are not fooled by SPDC's [State Peace and Development Council, the name for Burma's military council] all too modest efforts at dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, nor are the people of Burma, nor are the people of the world," he said.

McConnell urged the U.N. Security Council to turn its attention to considering an arms embargo against Burma, saying the world cannot forget the images from the democracy uprising by Burmese democracy demonstrators in September.

Last week, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. human rights expert dealing with Burma said at least 31 people were killed in the crackdown, adding that the actual death toll was likely much higher, an assessment also voiced by Human Rights Watch.