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US Lawmakers Reiterate Support for Burma Democracy Movement

04 October 2007

There have been more expressions of support in the U.S. Congress for Burma's democracy protesters. VOA's Dan Robinson reports that with both chambers of Congress approving resolutions this week condemning Burma's military government for its brutal suppression of demonstrations, lawmakers appear more determined than ever to keep the spotlight on events in Burma.

In a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, senators voiced bipartisan support for Burma's democracy movement, and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi. "The time for the Burmese people to prevail is now. The brutal response of the military has captured the attention of the international community and shame on us if we take our eyes off that," said California Democrat Barbara Boxer.

The Senate and the House have urged governments to maintain pressure on Burma's military, which according to reports has intensified its crackdown with arrests.

Senator John Kerry says it will take much more than congressional resolutions to force any substantive change in the situation in Burma. "It is going to take a strategy, it is going to take a policy, it is going to take leadership, it is going to take focus, and it demands ongoing pressure," he said.

The question Kerry adds, is whether the United States, United Nations, and the Burmese military's key economic and military supporter China, are serious about doing something.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says it appears none of Burma's neighbors have an interest in applying the kind of pressure that is needed. "A sanctions regime is only going to work to the extent that the Chinese, the Indians, and the Thais are deeply involved in this. And so I think the path is clear although it is not easy to get there, which is to continue to pressure our friends in that part of the world to take this matter seriously," he said.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Scot Marciel, says the Burmese military's suppression of demonstrations has reinforced the Bush administration's commitment to ensure that democracy is realized in Burma.

After tightening financial sanctions and visa bans on senior military officials, the Bush administration is exploring followup measures, although Marciel offered no specifics.

He had this comment on China's role. "While we have indications that Beijing has been quietly pressing junta [Burmese military] leaders to exercise restraint, and was helpful in facilitating U.N. special envoy Gambari's visit and meetings this week in Burma, we think China can do more. We have been pressing and we will continue to press Beijing to do more."

Marciel says the U.S. hopes for continuing international pressure from the European Union, ASEAN and India, adding the U.S. will work to keep Burma high on the U.N. Security Council agenda.

In approving a Burma resolution on Tuesday, lawmakers in the House of Representatives demanded that China formally condemn the crackdown and take other steps. Simply said this Burmese regime would not have the strength and power that it has absent the support of China. We are calling on China to use its influence to bring about a political negotiation with the pro-democracy activists," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Burmese exile activists told lawmakers Wednesday that the number of deaths from violence is far higher than acknowledged by the military. "More than 200 peaceful protesters, including Buddhist monks, students as young as 12 years old, and civilians have been brutally killed and over two-thousand (people) were arrested by soldiers and riot police in a matter of days. The people of Burma are now in a great shock and traumatized [by] this brutal experience," said Aung Din with the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

Bo Hla Tint who heads Burma's exile government, spoke at a separate event on Capitol Hill. "This brutal crackdown resulted in more than one thousand Buddhist monks arrested, the number of missing monks is increasing day by day. The death toll of Buddhist monks and activists also increasing day by day, now according to our latest report between 150 and 200 people including monks and people might be dead," he said.

"The internal dynamic in Burma has profoundly changed just in the last few weeks. What the Burmese government has done is brutal, it has inspired fear. But going after the monks crosses a line in Burmese society, that I think they will rue [regret] the day when they crossed [it]," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Reports coming from Burma Wednesday spoke of night-time raids on houses and continuing arrests by the military and police.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marciel told lawmakers the exact number of casualties from violence remains unclear but the true number of fatalities is likely many times the figure provided by Burma's military.

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