(AFP) – Dec 11, 2007
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US House of Representatives Tuesday adopted sanctions against Myanmar's multi-million dollar gemstone exports and natural gas industry, in response to the military junta's lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The unanimously-approved sanctions also freeze the assets of Myanmar's political and military leaders in US financial institutions and prevent them or their immediate families from using US finance businesses via third countries, officials said.
At least 31 people were killed and 74 missing following the bloody military crackdown on the September protests led by Buddhist monks, a UN report said. The crackdown drew an international outcry, including from the UN Security Council.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives hailed the sanctions legislation, called "Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act."
It will stop the junta's practice of avoiding US sanctions by "laundering" gemstones through third countries for sale inside the United States, and end tax write-offs enjoyed by US energy giant Chevron on revenues earned from its natural gas project in Myanmar.
"Today's legislation hits these military dictators where it hurts -- in the pocketbook," said Tom Lantos, the Democratic head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the bill. It "will take hundreds of millions out of the pockets of the regime each year."
Myanmar's state-run mining firms export rubies, sapphires, pearls, jade and other precious stones reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars each year.
The legislation is supported by the 11,000-store Jewelers of America, and major retailers such as Tiffany's and Bulgari have voluntarily implemented a ban on Myanmar gems.
The cut-off of tax deductions for Chevron's major gas investment in Myanmar closes a loophole and increases pressure on US allies to demand that firms based within their borders also divest themselves of Myanmar holdings, a House of Representatives statement said.
"It is singularly appropriate that this piece of legislation was passed just after International Human Rights Day (on Monday)," Lantos said.
"The peaceful protesters of Burma are human rights heroes, and the reprehensible military dictators ruling them deserve to be nothing less than international pariahs for their dismal human rights record," he said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
Aung Din, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, said the international community should step up sanctions on the junta, which he added "is showing defiance against the UN Security Council" in adopting reforms.
"The world must now remind the junta that the status quo is not acceptable," he said.
In a bid to avoid current sanctions, Myanmar exported its gems to the United States and Europe through third countries such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Aung Din said.
The United States, which has long imposed a trade and investment ban on Myanmar, has twice tightened sanctions since the clampdown on protests.
It has ordered an asset freeze on key junta figures and blacklisted seven companies and five individuals allegedly linked to those companies and the regime.
The US Senate also has a bill seeking sanctions against the junta which has not yet been voted on. The two bills could be reconciled, congressional aides said.
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