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Powell Urges Increased Pressure on Burma - 2003-06-13

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a commentary published Thursday, called for stepped up international pressure on Burma's military authorities to accept democratic reform. He said the Bush administration will work with the military junta's critics in the U.S. Congress on a new tougher policy approach to Rangoon.

Mr. Powell, in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal, said the May 30 attack on Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters was a "staged riot" produced and directed by members of the military junta.

He said by conducting the attack, the Burmese authorities have "finally and definitively rejected" the efforts of the outside world to bring Burma back into the international community.

He said the state of affairs requires stepped-up pressure on the junta, especially by its fellow members of ASEAN the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a new U.S. policy along the lines of sanctions legislation pending in the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Powell's published remarks came in advance of his departure next Monday on an Asia-Middle East mission that will include a meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to say whether the United States has given up entirely on the idea of dialogue with the junta, and said much would depend on consultations with ASEAN leaders and with the U.N. envoy for Burma Razali Ismail, who is currently in Rangoon. "We'll have to consult with Ambassador Razali, with other members of ASEAN as far as what the possibilities might be in the future. But at this point, it seems that the answer from the junta has been very strong, it's been graphic, and it's been unfortunately violent," he said.

In response to the May 30 assault on Aung San Suu Kyi, the Bush administration last week expanded a U.S. travel ban on leaders of the junta and family members.

And Mr. Powell said in the Wall Street Journal column the administration is ready to go along with a number of the provisions in Burma sanctions legislation now moving through the Congress, including a freeze of the junta's assets and curbs on trade that directly benefits Burmese generals.

However, he suggested that the key element of the legislation, an outright import ban on Burmese goods, would violate U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization, and that the legislation would have to give President Bush the authority to waive some of the penalties.

The Secretary said he would press the Burmese issue with ASEAN ministers next week despite what he called "their traditional reluctance to confront" a member country and neighbor.

Burmese authorities said earlier this week they would release Aung San Suu Kyi as soon as possible but gave no time frame.

The Nobel peace laureate, whose party won elections in 1990 but has been barred from taking power, has spent much of the time since then under various forms of detention and house arrest.