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8/2/03 - BURMA'S RULERS PAYING THE PRICE - 2003-08-04

The price of repression is going up for Burma's military junta. President George W. Bush has signed a new law strengthening sanctions on the Burmese regime. Among other measures, the legislation bans the import of Burmese products, freezes the assets of senior Burmese officials, and bans virtually all transfers of money from the U.S. to Burma. President Bush said "these measures reaffirm to the people of Burma that the United States stands with them in their struggle for democracy and freedom."

The sanctions are a response to stepped-up repression by the military regime, including the detention of Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She was taken into custody after a violent attack on her motorcade by pro-regime thugs. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her party was "premeditated": "The junta orchestrated this attack [and] has still not provided a full accounting of the dead, the injured and the missing. We remain very concerned about her welfare, and the international community continues to seek access to her."

Since her arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has been held virtually incommunicado, except for a brief visit by United Nations Special Envoy Razali Ismail and one visit by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Offices of her party, the National League for Democracy, have been closed down by Burmese authorities. Well over a thousand democracy movement leaders and activists are in prison.

Instead of keeping their promise to engage in dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and her democracy movement supporters, the generals in Rangoon have locked them up. Until they are released, Burma will remain an international pariah. But State Department spokesman Boucher says Burma's rulers can change that whenever they wish:

"Once again, we would say the Burmese junta needs to release her [Aung San Suu Kyi] and her supporters immediately, develop jointly with the National League for Democracy and other political parties some concrete plans to restore democracy in Burma, and then begin to implement such a plan."

The U.S., as President Bush said, "will not waver from its commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights in Burma."