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May 2, 2008

US imposes another sanction on junta

The United States President George W Bush slapped fresh sanctions on Thursday on state-run Myanmar firms, charging their profits help the ruling military there resist international pressure to enact democratic reforms, reported AFP.

"Today, I'm sending yet another clear message that we expect there to be change, that we expect these generals to honour the will of the people," Bush said, charging that the regime was rigging a May 10 constitutional referendum.

Junta leader "Than Shwe and his regime are ensuring that the referendum vote will be on a dangerously flawed constitution, and will not be free, fair, or credible," the US president said.

Bush announced that he had signed an executive order instructing the US Treasury Department to freeze the assets of state-owned Myanmar companies "that are major sources of funds that prop up the junta."

The order targets "companies in industries such as gems and timber that exploit the labour of the downtrodden Burmese people but enrich only the generals." The United States refers to the country as Burma, not Myanmar.

The measure targets three specific firms - Myanmar Gems Enterprise, Myanmar Pearl Enterprise and Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a US Treasury official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The three companies are controlled or owned by the military regime and they are a significant source of revenues for the regime, which is why we are interested in sanctioning them," the official said.

The planned referendum, which the regime says will set the stage for multi-party elections in 2010, is Myanmar's first vote since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory, which was never recognised by the junta.

The 62-year-old widow is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, having spent more than 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest.

Myanmar faces mounting pressure for democratic reform after its crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks last September triggered widespread international outrage and tighter Western sanctions.

The United Nations says at least 31 people were killed during the suppression, and 74 remain missing.

The new sanctions come on top of others announced in February against backers of the military regime, and an earlier round imposed shortly after the September crackdown.

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