Tuesday, December 11, 2007

H.R. 3890: Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2007

House passes bill hitting Burma gems, Chevron
By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent
Tue Dec 11, 5:29 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday blocking imports of Myanmar rubies and removing tax credits for U.S. firms investing in the military-ruled Southeast Asian country.

The Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, drafted after Myanmar's suppression of pro-democracy protests in September, was approved as the junta rejected a U.N. report putting the death toll from that crackdown at 31.

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, bans the import of Myanmar gems into the United States, freezes the assets of the country's leaders and stops the former Burma from using U.S. financial institutions via third countries to launder funds of its leaders or close relatives.

His amendment to U.S. trade sanctions imposed in 2003 also targets the sale in America of rubies routed through China, India and Thailand to circumvent curbs on trade with Myanmar.

The bill, which must be approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President George W. Bush, also would stop the U.S. oil major Chevron Corp from taking tax deductions on its investment in Myanmar's Yadana natural gas field.

"The vile reaction of the Burmese junta to peaceful calls for democracy showed the world the moral bankruptcy of this regime," said Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"Unfortunately, the thugs in charge are not in a state of economic bankruptcy to match. Today's legislation hits these military dictators where it hurts -- in the pocketbook," he said in a statement after the bill passed unopposed.


Lantos has estimated that Myanmar produces more than 90 percent of the world's rubies and fine-quality jade and that the military junta is projected to make $300 million this year from the gem trade.

California-based Chevron said its stake in the Yadana gas pipe-line made it a "constructive, positive force" that helped support energy needs and economic growth and provided health and social development programs for local communities.

"Chevron shares congressional concerns for a peaceful resolution, however punitive tax measures against one company will not serve the purpose of helping the people of Myanmar and may have unintended consequences," it said in a statement.

Chevron warned that holding back taxes to the Myanmar government could lead it to violate its contract and possibly face a seizure of assets.

Aung Din, director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a pro-democracy group, called the legislation a timely rebuke to Myanmar generals as they defy U.N. recommendations for dialogue with opponents, including detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This is the time for the international community to increase pressure against the Burmese military junta," he said.

Myanmar has been under military control since a 1962 coup. The army held elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett, edited by Richard Meares)

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