Washington – US lawmakers are considering a widely supported new bid to punish the Burmese military rulers by banning gems and timber, most of which are exported to Thailand.
The bill would tighten sanctions by imposing a travel ban on top generals and associates and outlaw the import into the United States of gems and timber from Burma.
It would create a new position of special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, tasked with working with European and Southeast Asian powers on humanitarian relief and international sanctions.
The bill expanding sanctions was introduced Tuesday, targetting the country’s multi-million dollar gemstone exports.
Democratic Senator and 2008 presidential candidate Joseph Biden’s Burma Democracy Promotion Act would ratchet up a sanctions regime already twice tightened by Washington since the junta’s crackdown on peaceful protests.
“We need to bring pressure to bear on the Burmese generals directly responsible for the violence against the peaceful protesters last month, but unilateral sanctions alone will not get the job done,” Biden said.
“We need a coordinated, international diplomatic strategy that combines pressure with dialogue.”
The legislation was co-sponsored by Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who was behind previous Burma sanctions laws, as well as senators Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein.
The bill specifically states that the Burmese regime successfully sends millions of dollars in gems to the United States, after concealing their origin.
Burma’s state-run mining firms are responsible for exports of rubies, sapphires, pearls, jade and precious stones worth tens of millions of dollars, according to the legislation.
Much or most of that trade occurs through Thailand, where jewellers buy, polish and add value to the Burmese gemstones. Often, jewellery buyers are told as a positive selling point that gemstones come from Burma.
The US government has twice tightened sanctions on Burma since the clampdown on protests in September, which killed at least 13 people and jailed about 3,000.
As well as imposing an asset freeze on key junta figures, Washington this month blacklisted seven companies and five individuals allegedly linked to those companies and the regime.
The seven firms included Burma’s privately owned Air Bagan, which recently launched daily flights to Singapore, the airline’s second international destination after Thailand.
Anti-junta rallies began in August following a massive hike in fuel prices and snowballed into the biggest challenge to the iron-fisted regime in nearly two decades.
The suppression sparked global outrage against the junta and Europe also tightened sanctions