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US Puts Pressure on Burma to Free Aung San Suu Kyi - 2003-06-06

The United States is adding more members of Burma's military government to its visa blacklist, in an effort to build pressure on authorities in Rangoon to release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. State Department officials Friday held out the prospect of further sanctions, if the junta does not return to a dialogue with the opposition.

The Bush administration is reiterating its demand for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders detained after a violent clash with government supporters a week ago.

It is backing up the call with a step-up in U.S. sanctions against the military leadership, and threat of still more penalties, if there is no response from Rangoon.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher again depicted the May 30 attack in northern Burma against Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade, which left an undetermined number of people dead and wounded, as a "premeditated ambush."

He dismissed official accounts of the clash as having been provoked by rowdy supporters of the Nobel Peace laureate, and said it could mean the junta has decided to pull out of talks with the opposition.

"The explanations that they've made of the violence and subsequent events lack credibility," said Mr. Boucher. "Moreover, these actions have to be interpreted as suggesting that they've decided to end efforts at national reconciliation, and that, too, would be a very regrettable turn of events."

Mr. Boucher said, as part of a review of Burma policy, the Bush administration has decided to expand a list of officials of the Burmese junta and related organizations banned from visiting the United States under existing sanctions.

He also said administration officials are looking "very carefully" at bipartisan legislation just introduced in Congress that would curb Burmese exports to the United States because of the junta's latest crackdown.

He said the draft bill contains "many useful measures" and that the administration is working with the sponsors to ensure the passage of "appropriate" legislation.

The comments came as the U.N. special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, began a new mission to Rangoon, aimed at restoring a dialogue between the government and opposition on national reconciliation.

Spokesman Boucher stressed U.S. support for the Razali mission, and said the Malaysian diplomat must "absolutely" be allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held by authorities at an undisclosed location since the May 30 attack.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party easily won Burma's last free election, in 1990, but has been barred from taking power.

A senior U.S. official told reporters here Burmese authorities must seize on the Razali mission as a chance to "fix" some of the latest actions that have drawn international condemnation.

But he said if they don't, the Bush administration is "going to go down the road" toward the trade curbs in the new legislation, and other strong steps.