Senator To Visit Burma

U.S. Senator Jim Webb announces a visit to Burma, as officials reassess policy toward the isolated Southeast Asian country.

2009-08-07
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jim-webb-305.jpg US senator Jim Webb, with his wife Hong, answers questions during a press conference in Hanoi, 04 July 2007.
AFP

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Jim Webb will leave Sunday on an Asian tour that will include Burma, his office said, as U.S. officials review Washington's longstanding sanctions policy against the military-run country.

Webb, a Virginia Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, will be the first U.S. legislator to visit Burma in more than a decade.

The aim of his trip to Burma is "to explore opportunities to advance U.S. interests in Burma and the region," his office said in a statement.

Webb, a Vietnam war veteran, leaves Sunday and will also visit Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia over a two-week span, his office said in a statement.

Along with other U.S. lawmakers, Webb has pressed the Burmese junta to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But he has also publicly advocated a rethinking of U.S. sanctions on Burma.

Sanctions under review

In May, U.S. President Barack Obama extended for one year a ban on U.S. investment first imposed in 1997. Last week, Obama renewed sanctions targeting imports from Burma.

In mid-2001, Webb visited Burma to meet with business leaders, workers, and officials, his office said.

In March this year, he cited his 2001 visit and described U.S. sanctions as "counter-productive in terms of our ability to affect the difficulties faced by the Burmese people."

"The sanctions policy against Burma will never be effective as long as a major power on its border (China) declines to participate and in fact take advantage of those sanctions in order to entrench its positions in that same country," he said at the time.

"I have said for several years that it is to the benefit of all involved that we speak directly with Burma’s leadership and work toward resolving our differences."

The U.S. Senate recently began reviewing Burma policy amid frustration that existing sanctions aren't spurring progress toward democratization, the release of political prisoners, and other reforms there.

The 2008 Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act contains sanctions language and provisions requiring the appointment of a special envoy to Burma, along with calls for increased international support for NGOs doing humanitarian work in Burma and authorized U.S. government licenses for humanitarian or religious activities in Burma.

The Senate also wants to look at the country's preparations for an election next year and what that election could mean for the future of the country.

The junta has set elections for 2010, though they have been dismissed by Western governments as a sham.

Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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