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Bush slaps new sanctions on Myanmar

AFP, Oct 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, USA -- President George W. Bush announced tighter US sanctions on Myanmar's military rulers Friday and urged China and India to step up pressure on the junta to end repression of pro-democracy activists.

"Burma's rulers continue to defy the world's just demand to stop their vicious persecution," he said in a brief statement at the White House, using Myanmar's former name. "Business as usual is unacceptable."

Bush was joined by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and, more unusually for a statement of this sort, by First Lady Laura Bush, who has been a leading US voice of criticism of the junta in Yangon.

"I am proud of Laura for all she has done to awaken the conscience of the world to the plight of the Burmese people," the president said. "We must not turn a deaf ear to their cries."

It was the second time in four weeks that the United States stepped up its sanctions on Myanmar's military leaders after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks across the country in September.

The US Treasury Department added 11 more junta leaders -- including 10 government ministers -- to an existing list of 14 whose US assets have been frozen, including junta chief Senior General Than Shwe.

The president also said he had issued a new executive order targeting another 12 individuals and entities for sanctions -- including two Singaporean companies -- and ordered the US Commerce Department tighten controls on exports to Myanmar.

The president, frustrated by the thus-far vain attempt to get the junta to change course, warned of still more sanctions "if Burma's leaders do not end the brutal repression of their own people."

Bush praised Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore's response to the political upheaval in Myanmar, but singled out regional powers China and India as countries that must do more.

"I ask other countries to review their own laws and policies, especially Burma's closest neighbors, China, India and others in the region," he said.

Myanmar's military junta triggered a global outcry when it violently suppressed anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks across the country in September, with at least 13 people killed and about 3,000 detained.

China is a major supplier of weapons to Myanmar and has come under harsh criticism for its policy of non-interference in its neighbor's affairs.

India, jointly battling rebels with Myanmar along their shared border, has refused to abandon the regime but has urged the junta to release democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. She has spent most of the last 18 years under house arrest.

The administration's moves came as US lawmakers weighed new sanctions that would pressure US energy giant Chevron to pull its money from Myanmar, amid charges from rights activists that the investments prop up the junta.

Chevron's operations predate an enhanced 2003 US trade embargo.

Other measures unveiled in the sanctions package were aimed at stopping the US import of gemstones from Myanmar through third countries, and tightening a freeze on the assets of the country's political and military leaders.

Bush said that Myanmar's rulers must allow the Red Cross and other aid groups access to political prisoners; let Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained pro-democracy leaders to communicate with one another; and allow UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari immediate entry into their country.

"And ultimately, reconciliation requires that Burmese authorities release all political prisoners -- and begin negotiations with the democratic opposition under the auspices of the United Nations," he said.

On Monday, Bush expressed frustration during a political rally in the US state of Arkansas at the lack of international cohesion on Myanmar, saying that "sanctions don't mean anything if we're the only sanctioner."

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