U.S. senators urge tougher Myanmar sanctions

April 2, 2011 - 0:0

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The United States should reject calls to ease sanctions on Myanmar junta members and instead name a special envoy to give the measures more bite, four U.S. senators said in a letter released Thursday.

“With the regime's recent moves and persistent human rights abuses, conditions do not currently exist to meet the necessary criteria to consider an easing of sanctions,” they wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer and Republican Senator Mark Kirk signed the letter.
The lawmakers pointed to recent comments by Myanmar's opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on the issue and said “we agree that sanctions should be maintained until the regime undertakes serious reforms.”
The group urged Clinton to name a “Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma” to work with Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) “to ensure that sanctions are more effective and better utilized.”
“We therefore urge the administration to act swiftly to nominate an individual with the depth of expertise and the breadth of skills necessary to succeed in this important position,” they wrote.
The lawmakers also urged Clinton “to exercise the authority for additional banking sanctions against Burma's leaders explicitly provided by Congress” in a law meant to pry Myanmar open to democratic and free-market reforms.
“We believe that exercising such authority represents one of the most powerful instruments at our disposal for pressuring Burma's rulers to change course,” the senators said.
A rare election in November and Suu Kyi's subsequent release from house arrest have reignited a debate about the measures, and the European Union is poised to decide in April whether to continue sanctions against the regime.
European diplomats recently held talks with Suu Kyi, 65, and other opposition members about the possibility of lifting the sanctions, which global think-tank International Crisis Group has criticized as “counterproductive.”
The NLD has no voice in a newly opened parliament dominated by the military and its proxies. It was disbanded for opting to boycott the vote because the rules seemed designed to bar Suu Kyi from participating.
Supporters of the trade and financial sanctions say they are the only way to pressure the military rulers of Myanmar, where there are about 2,200 political prisoners.
The United States said last month that calls to ease sanctions on Myanmar were premature.