Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bush renews sanctions on Myanmar, says no effect on storm aid

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Saturday extended for another year economic sanctions on Myanmar's military junta, but stressed the move did not affect aid bound for the cyclone-ravaged nation.

Bush said he ordered the extension of sanctions beyond the anniversary date of May 20, 2008, in part because the junta is still "engaging in large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma," and other policies that pose "an unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security.

"For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Burma and maintain in force the sanctions against Burma to respond to this threat," he said in a statement, using Myanmar's former name.

"This action does not inhibit any efforts on the part of the United States to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis."

Myanmar has faced world outrage and allegations of crimes against humanity by mostly refusing a massive foreign relief effort for the cyclone tragedy which the junta says has left 134,000 people dead or missing.

But US aid has begun to trickle into the isolated nation, where up to 2.5 million survivors are battling to stay alive two weeks after the cyclone hit.

Five US relief flights arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday, and four more landed Friday, with two of the shipments handed over directly to international relief groups for the first time, the State Department said.

More US flights were expected Saturday and Sunday.

The United States began imposing substantial trade, investment and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar in 1997, including a ban on US investment in Myanmar, and enhanced its trade embargo in 2003.

It has tightened a freeze on the assets of the country's political and military leaders, and last October targeted 11 additional senior officials in the junta as well as seven state-controlled companies.

On May 1, just days before the cyclone, Bush slapped new sanctions on state-run Myanmar firms that he said help "prop up the junta."

Bush also charged that the regime was rigging a constitutional referendum, which has since taken place and earned the junta sweeping international denunciation as it was held in the aftermath of the cyclone.

On Thursday state media announced the military-backed constitution was approved by 92.4 percent of voters.

The country's opposition says the constitution, which the military hails as a step toward democratic elections in 2010, will only enshrine the power of the generals, who have ruled the country for nearly half a century.

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