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20 September 2002

Lawmakers Say Burma's Military Junta Continues to Commit Abuses

(Urge end to military rule and restoration of democracy) (660)
By Steve La Rocque
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - In a series of speeches in the House of Representatives
September 18, a group of lawmakers sharply criticized Burma's ruling
military junta for continuing to suppress democracy and commit human
rights abuses in its country.
"Today, September 18th, marks the 14-year anniversary of the Burmese
military regime's bloody takeover of Burma, after gunning down an
estimated 10,000 non-violent demonstrators throughout the country,"
said Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat of California), the ranking
minority member on the House International Relations Committee.
"Since that awful day, the Burmese people, led by the courageous 1991
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have against great
odds never given up their hope, their belief, and their struggle for
the kind of freedom we have enjoyed in this country," Lantos said, who
is also the co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
"This struggle was enshrined into political reality when Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won a democratic
election in 1990 with 82 percent of the seats in parliament -- a
landslide election the regime has never recognized," said Lantos.
"We absolutely must lend our vocal public support to the Burmese
people's struggle for freedom," he continued.
"It is time the United States and the international community see
through the regime's smoke and mirrors and again move to increase
concrete political and economic pressure," Lantos added.
"On September 18, 1988, the military forced its rule on the people of
Burma, a rule that has been dominated by severe violence and
oppression including rape, the enslavement of children, attacks on
ethnic minorities, imprisonment and torture of democratic political
opposition groups, and the destruction of homes and villages,"
Representative Joseph Pitts (Republican of Pennsylvania) said.
Pitts, who serves on the House International Relations Subcommittees
on International Operations and Human Rights, is also the founder and
chairman of the Religious Prisoners Congressional Task Force, and a
member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
"The people of Burma have struggled to survive under this brutal
regime. On this day of tragic remembrance, the United States and the
entire international community must come together to support and
assist the Karen, Karenni, Chin, Shan and other people of Burma,"
Pitts said.
Rangoon's military rulers, he went on, do not limit their attacks to
ethnic minorities, "but also brutally oppresses religious minorities."
The Burmese military, Pitts said, "invades villages, divides families
through forced relocation, and uses rape and murder to subjugate the
people."
Representative Benjamin Gilman (Republican of New York) said he urged
Congress to "continue to pressure the regime until the aspirations of
the Burmese people are fulfilled."
The chairman emeritus of the House International Relations Committee
reminded his colleagues that in Burma, "a parliamentary chamber has
not been filled with an electorate."
"If we turn our backs on Burma, if we don't speak out, and act, in
support of those who chose democracy, we will be undermining all duly
elected public officials, including ourselves," the New York
Republican added.
Representative Gary Ackerman (Democrat of New York) backed Gilman,
urging that Burma's military regime "be put on notice" that the United
States would not forget September 18th, and that many lawmakers in
Congress were "growing weary of the constant stalling and delaying of
a full-scale political dialogue" in Burma.
Representative Lane Evans (Democrat of Illinois) focused on the
military regime's rejection of "core labor rights including
prohibitions on child labor, forced labor, and freedom of
association."
Evans said the military uses a "system of sweatshops" to produce
textiles for western markets.
"Even under strict quotas, Burmese textile exports have exploded into
the U.S. market creating a direct source of hard currency for the
military dictatorship," Evans said.
"Textile exports are the life support for the Burmese regime and we
need a complete ban on Burmese exports until we see freedom and an end
to slavery," the Illinois Democrat said.
He added that now was not the time to relax sanctions, but instead,
time to "tighten the noose on one of the world's worst totalitarian
governments."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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