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US Senate passes sanctions on Burmese gems

Dec 20, 2007 (AFP), The US Senate approved on Wednesday sanctions against Burma’s multi-million dollar gemstone industry to punish the military regime over its deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The Burma Democracy Promotion Act outlaws the import of gems and timber from Burma and imposes fresh financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the junta’s leaders and their associates.

The legislation also creates a position of special representative and policy coordinator for Burma who would work with the Southeast Asian nation’s neighbors and the European Union to press for change in the country.

"The message to the people of Burma today is clear: the United States stands with you as you seek a peaceful, negotiated transition to democratic civilian rule," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden.

"We will work tirelessly with the international community toward that objective," Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement.

The House of Representatives passed similar legislation last week, but it needs to vote on the Senate version because it was amended. The final bill would then go to US President George W. Bush for his signature.

Last week, Bush threatened to spearhead a global campaign to step up sanctions against Burma if it continues to ignore calls for a democratic transition.

At least 31 people were killed and 74 went missing in the suppression in September of peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks, according to a UN report.

Bush recently announced new sanctions against Burma’s military, including an asset freeze on key junta figures and blacklisting of seven companies and five individuals allegedly linked to those companies and the regime.

The United States has long maintained a trade and investment ban on Burma.

The new special representative will work with Burma’s neighbors and other countries to pressure Burma, promote dialogue and support humanitarian groups aiding the people there, Biden’s statement said.

"Our ultimate objective is to re-integrate Burma into the community of nations. Sanctions without concerted diplomacy are pointless," said Biden.

"It is time for Burma to begin a new day in which all of the people, including Burma’s many minority groups, work together to rebuild what nearly 20 years of disastrous military rule have destroyed."

US First Lady Laura Bush, an active campaigner for rights in Burma, on Tuesday charged that the junta had not enacted even "minimal" democratic reforms.

On December 11, the president had warned that failure to release democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees could trigger a US-led effort to tighten international sanctions on Burma’s military regime.

The UN envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, met on Monday with US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to discuss Burma.

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