- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Two senior lawmakers yesterday called on the United States to order Burma’s ambassador to leave the country as the Bush administration stepped up its criticisms of the military junta that recently detained Burma’s leading pro-democracy activist.

Sens. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, endorsed a series of measures to punish the Southeast Asian nation, which has imposed a new political crackdown after the violent May 30 clashes with supporters of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Downgrading Burma’s diplomatic presence in Washington would show that “we consider this a pariah regime that does not even deserve the respect of having an ambassador here,” said Mr. McConnell.

Mr. McConnell and Mrs. Feinstein spoke at the formal release of a new study by a Council on Foreign Relations task force that called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on the crisis in Burma, targeted trade and travel sanctions on Burmese leaders and an immediate U.S. import ban on Burmese goods.

The council report also said the U.S. government should press governments in the region, including China, Japan and the leading Southeast Asian nations, to work for political reform in Burma.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, addressing a summit of Asian foreign ministers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, yesterday, said regional powers must be more aggressive in confronting the political crisis in Burma.

“Together, we must tell the Burmese leaders to free Aung San Suu Kyi, to free her supporters, and to free the people of Burma by returning democracy to that nation,” Mr. Powell said.

The 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations broke with its traditional stance of noninterference this week, calling on Burma’s military rulers to release Mrs. Suu Kyi and top leaders of her party, who have not been seen in public since the May 30 clashes that killed at least four persons.

A U.N. envoy who visited Mrs. Suu Kyi in what the regime has called “protective custody” last week said reports she had been personally injured in the crackdown were not true.

But officials of the International Committee for the Red Cross said in Rangoon yesterday the Burmese government had refused their request to visit Mrs. Suu Kyi.

The embattled Burmese junta also found itself under fire in a California appeals courtroom, where attorneys for Burmese villagers were trying to revive a lawsuit to block a pipeline being built by the Burmese government in partnership with the U.S. oil firm Unocal Corp. and other international partners.

The lawsuit, which has become a test case for a long-standing U.S. law that has been used extensively in human rights cases, charges that Unocal has employed slave labor to construct the pipeline, a charge the company denies.

Burmese dissident groups have planned a series of demonstrations in Washington and cities across Asia, North American and Europe today — Mrs. Suu Kyi’s 58th birthday — to demand her release and press for political reforms.

The Senate passed a bill imposing new trade sanctions on Burma Friday and the House is considering its own measure. Mr. McConnell said yesterday he believed President Bush was prepared to sign the measure, as international pressure on Rangoon mounts.

“I think in the last 10 days, Burma and what the junta is doing there are finally getting the attention they deserve,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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