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October 21, 2007

US puts fresh pressure on junta

Myanmar was under renewed pressure Saturday after the United States announced a new round of sanctions following the military government's bloody crackdown on dissent here.

US President George W. Bush's new penalties targeted the country's military leaders and Washington also urged China and India, Myanmar's neighbours and main allies, to step up pressure on the military government.

It is the second time in four weeks that the United States has increased sanctions on Myanmar following the government's clampdown on protests.

State media in Yangon has yet to speak about the latest US action, while detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), also declined to comment on the move.

However, a Yangon-based diplomat voiced scepticism over the impact of the latest US sanctions designed to pressure the military government into ending its repression of pro-democracy activists.

"The junta leaders may feel nervous because the United States was stepping up pressure very quickly," said the diplomat, who declined to be named.

"But the impact of the latest US sanctions is limited at best. I don't think Myanmar's top leaders still hold vast assets in the United States," he said.

The military government has been under international pressure since it violently put down peaceful protests, led by Buddhist monks, in Yangon on September 26, killing at least 13 people and detaining some 3,000 people.

In the wake of the violence, the United States ordered a freeze on the assets of 14 top officials, including Myanmar's military leader General Than Shwe.

On Friday, Washington further tightened sanctions by adding 11 more military leaders, including 10 government ministers, to the existing list of 14 officials whose US assets have been frozen.

Anti-government rallies began in August following a massive hike in fuel prices and snowballed into the biggest challenge to the iron-fisted government in nearly two decades.

The bloody crackdown sparked global outrage against Myanmar, with the United States and the European Union tightening sanctions, while the United Nations also urged the government to open talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.

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