Tough New Sanctions Imposed on Burma

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - President Bush on Monday signed into law new sanctions against Burma just hours after the State Department slammed its military rulers for their latest accusations against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 imposes a ban on all exports from the Southeast Asian country - with textiles likely to be the hardest hit - freezes the regime's assets in U.S. banks and toughens existing restrictions on visas for Burmese officials to visit the U.S.

The sanctions will go into force in one month.

Congress sent the bill, which won wide support in the House and the Senate, to the White House on July 16.

Suu Kyi has been under arrest since May, when she was detained after her motorcade was involved in what the State Department has described as a "premeditated ambush" orchestrated by the junta.

Dozens were feared dead in the clashes, which erupted while she was on an organizing tour for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the northern end of the country.

The incident has jeopardized a U.N.-brokered reconciliation process between the government and the opposition that was aimed at introducing democratic change.

The junta has ignored international demands to release Suu Kyi and during the weekend accused the NLD of plotting its downfall.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday that the statements, which appeared in official media, were "absolutely outrageous and fly in the face of the facts." He also stated: "The onus for failure to establish genuine dialogue is clearly on the side of the junta."

Boucher said the U.S. hoped the new sanctions would send a clear message to the generals about the consequences of their failure to allow genuine dialogue to restore democracy.

Meanwhile, international pressure continues to be applied, and the government of neighboring Thailand has proposed a new set of steps to launch democratic reforms.

So far, the Burmese government has rejected what it calls outside interference in its affairs.

Officials said over the weekend that they had uncovered a plot to assassinate five senior members of the regime and create civil disorder. Twelve people had been arrested, the government said, and sought to link the alleged conspiracy with the NLD.

The NLD decisively won elections in 1990, but the military - which has ruled the country since 1962 - refused to relinquish power.

Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 after being accused of inciting unrest, and again for a 19-month period that ended in May 2002.

She won the Nobel peace prize in 1991.

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See Earlier Story:
Bush Calls for Burmese Generals to Free Leader, End Clampdown
(June 3, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow