Bush expands sanctions against Myanmar rulers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush expanded U.S. sanctions against Myanmar’s rulers on Friday, accusing them of “vicious persecution” of democracy protesters, and urged China and India to step up pressure on their neighbor.

Unveiling the second package of U.S. measures in less than a month, Bush said he was adding more of Myanmar’s military leaders to a list already facing sanctions and had ordered a tightening of U.S. export controls on the Asian country.

But in a tacit admission that U.S. steps alone would not be enough, he urged China, India and other countries in the region to “review their own laws and policies” on Myanmar, the former Burma.

“Burma’s rulers continue to defy the world’s just demands to stop their vicious persecution,” Bush told reporters. “They continue to reject the clear will of the Burmese people to live in freedom under leaders of their own choosing.”

Bush’s latest announcement followed weeks of mostly unsuccessful international efforts to get Myanmar’s government to ease up on repression of protesters and open a dialogue with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar’s junta has kept a tight lid on the country since crushing Buddhist monk-led protests that began in September and grew into the largest anti-government demonstrations in 20 years. Official media said 10 people died.

Bush unveiled one set of limited sanctions last month targeting 14 military leaders, toughening U.S. measures that had been in place for years but had forced little change.

“In light of the ongoing atrocities by these men and their associates, the United States has today imposed additional sanctions,” Bush said on Friday.

President Bush talks about sanctions against Myanmar's military junta, as first lady Laura Bush listens, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, October 19, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing


He designated 11 more leaders under existing sanctions, including a freeze on U.S. assets, and also named 12 new “individuals and entities” to be covered by U.S. penalties.

The White House said Bush’s tightening of exports controls would include a ban on the sale of high-performance computers to Myanmar.

Bush demanded the International Committee of the Red Cross be given access to political prisoners, that Suu Kyi and other detained leaders be allowed to communicate with each other and that U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari be allowed back.

“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.

Bush said the United States would “consider additional measures if Burma’s leaders do not end the brutal repression.”

Mindful of the limits of U.S. influence with Myanmar, Bush renewed his appeal for China and India to do more. China, the closest the isolated junta has to an ally, has expressed concern about the crackdown and helped facilitate Gambari’s visit earlier this month but has been reluctant to go further.

Beijing has leverage as Myanmar’s key trading partner and arms supplier, while India also has some economic sway.

Bush this week voiced impatience with the international response to Myanmar. But on Friday, he praised the European Union and Australia for “targeted sanctions,” commended Japan for cutting assistance and voiced appreciation for criticism of the junta by Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Derek Mitchell, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new U.S. sanctions were “certainly worthwhile doing even if no one else does it.”

“If we want to get other nations to follow, we have to set an example,” he said. But he acknowledged China and India had shown no signs of emulating the U.S. moves.