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The United States proposes trade sanctions on Myanmar

WASHINGTON -- The United States on Wednesday proposed more sanctions against military-ruled Myanmar Wednesday, including blocking critical access to U.S. financial institutions via third countries.

Other measures unveiled in the U.S. House of Representatives were intended to stop the import of Myanmar gemstones through third countries and tighten a freeze of assets on its political and military leaders.

In addition, steps will be taken to prevent U.S. visits by officials from the military junta directly linked to a recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by monks.

"This legislation will turn off a huge cash spigot for the thuggish Burmese regime," said Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House's foreign affairs committee, who introduced the sanctions package, known as the "Block Burmese JADE (junta's anti-democratic efforts) Act."

Burma is the former name of Myanmar, on which the United States already imposed substantial trade, investment and diplomatic sanctions.

Amid reports that Myanmar largely used third countries to access the U.S. banking system, Lantos said, "These overseas banks process accounts in and through the United States for Burma's rulers, providing the regime with much needed hard currency.

"The regime uses these funds to purchase weapons and luxury goods, while the bulk of Burma's population lives in poverty," he said.

In order for sanctions to be effective, the U.S. Treasury should seek more cooperation from financial institutions in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Dubai, where most of the assets of Myanmar's leaders are believed held, said Southeast Asian expert Bridget Welsh from the Johns Hopkins University.

Myanmar has also been reportedly circumventing a U.S. import ban by exporting gems via third countries.

Only three percent of Myanmar's rubies entering the United States market indicate their true country of origin, while the rest are imported via neighbors, China, Thailand and India, a statement from Lantos office said.

"There is a direct link between these blood-red gemstones and the bloodied robes of monks who were brutally suppressed when they took to the streets to demand democracy and human rights," Lantos said.

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