By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
President Bush imposed new sanctions Friday to punish Myanmar’s military-run government and its backers for a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Expanding on sanctions imposed last month, Bush ordered the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S. assets of additional members of the repressive junta. He also acted to tighten controls on U.S. exports to Myanmar, also known as Burma. And he called on the governments of China and India to do more to pressure the government of the Southeast Asian nation.
“The people of Burma are showing great courage in the face of immense repression,” Bush said in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “They are appealing for our help. We must not turn a deaf ear to their cries.”
Last month, tens of thousands of people turned out for rallies, which started as protests of sharp fuel increases and later snowballed into the largest show of government dissent in decades. The junta claims that 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on demonstrators to disperse them, but diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is much higher.
“I believe no nation can forever suppress its own people,” Bush said. “And we are confident that the day is coming when freedom’s tide will reach the shores of Burma.”
The president directed the Treasury Department to bar almost a dozen more senior Myanmar government officials from using the U.S. financial system. These include the mayor of Rangoon and the ministers of electric power, health, education, industry, labor, science and technology, commerce, national planning and economic development, finance and revenue, telecommunications and construction.
Treasury banned 14 other officials last month, including the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and the No. 2 man in the military regime, Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye.
Bush also issued a new executive order that names an additional 12 individuals and business entities for sanctions. The order gives the Treasury Department expanded authority to sanction individuals responsible for public corruption, human rights abuses or for supporting and providing financial backing to the regime.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no comment on the sanctions. China, a close ally of Myanmar and a major source of economic support, has said in the past that it has taken a “constructive and responsible attitude” on the issue and that sanctions would not be effective in resolving the situation.
“Sanctions do have an impact,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “We believe that tightening the noose around the leaders in Burma, as well as their cronies who help them by carrying out their bank transactions and buying their luxury goods, is a way to increase the pressure so that the Burmese can be relieved of the dictatorship.”
Derek Mitchell, an expert on Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new sanctions further squeeze the leaders of Myanmar. But he said the international community should also offer them incentives, such as affirming the territorial integrity of Myanmar or guaranteeing their personal safety should they lose their authority.
“There have to be some incentives because they’re fearful that if they release their grip on power, they will go the way of other dictators — at best, imprisoned or ruined, at worst, a bullet in the back of the head,” Mitchell said.
Bush was joined in the Diplomatic Room by first lady Laura Bush who has made personal appeals in support of Myanmar citizens, saying the acts of violence “shame the military regime.”
“Burmese authorities claim they desire reconciliation. Well, they need to match those words with actions,” the president said.
He said the Myanmar government needs to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners; allow pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders to communicate with one another; and to permit U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to enter the country immediately.
“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.
Gambari met with the junta leader in Myanmar earlier this month, as well as twice with Suu Kyi, but he has so far failed to bring about a dialogue between the two sides. U.N. diplomats said Friday that Gambari is unlikely to return to Myanmar before mid-November as the Security Council had wanted.
Gambari has said he was invited to return to Myanmar in mid-November, but might try to go earlier. Diplomats said, however, it appears that Myanmar’s military rulers have not given him a visa for an earlier visit.