US close to renewing Burma sanctions

July 22, 2009 (DVB), The US House of Representatives has approved the renewal of sanctions on Burma and will now wait for confirmation from the Senate as to whether to continue with current US policy to the country.

The United States had said in April that it may look for a different angle in its approach to pressuring the military government to end human rights violations and imprisonment of opposition members.

This followed a comment in February by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said that the US needed to review its sanctions policy in light of their failure.

Any hope of a softening of the embargo and increased engagement with the regime was dashed in May however following the charges brought against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose trial is now close to a verdict.

Current US sanctions ban countries from importing certain goods from Burma, and places tight restrictions on investment in the country.

Observers have said however that continued trade with a number of neighbouring countries is lessening the impact of the embargo.

"Sanctions aren't having much effect in Burma because of China and other countries doing business with the regime," said Burmese political analyst Naing Ko Ko.

China is Burma's third largest investor, and recently signed a deal that will see it capitalizing on Burma's vast natural gas reserves.

In spite of sanctions, the Burmese government claimed last week that foreign investment in the country leapt from $US172.7 million in the 2007/08 fiscal year to $US984.9 million last year.

"You need diplomatic sanctions and arms embargoes as well, not only financial sanctions," said Naing Ko Ko, adding that the US should also now pressure ASEAN countries to apply economic sanctions.

The issue of Burma, in particular the Suu Kyi trial, will likely feature highly on the agenda of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which begins today on the Thai island of Phuket.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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