By LALIT K JHA
WASHINGTON — US lawmakers are outraged at the Burmese military junta’s latest move to persecute Aung San Suu Kyi, with calls coming from Capitol Hill for tougher action against the junta and an attempt to galvanize key regional and global players on the issue.
A series of statements from powerful lawmakers—whose voices resonate in the shaping US foreign policy—led political observers to say that it would be very tough for the Obama administration to show any sign of leniency or softening of stance with the Burmese military junta.
The lawmakers, who either issued statements or spoke on the floor of the US Congress, argued that it is now time for decisive action, to restore democracy in Burma and protect the human rights of Burmese nationals.
The Obama administration—which has been looking at the possibilities of engaging the junta and has hinted that it would review the impact of economic sanctions—appeared to be siding with the lawmakers.
“The accusations against her are baseless and without merit,” said senators Dianne Feinstein and Kay Bailey Hutchison in a joint statement. The two senators are co-chair of the Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma.
The trial of Suu Kyi represents yet another desperate attempt on the part of the despotic military junta to silence her voice and stifle the will of the people of Burma who overwhelmingly support Suu Kyi and her call for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for Burma, said the senators.
“The world must now respond to the junta's latest outrage in a way that demonstrates the inevitability of those values she so clearly demonstrates,” said influential Republican Senator John McCain, on the floor of the Senate. “The thugs who run Burma have tried to stifle her voice, but they will never extinguish her moral courage,” he said.
McCain said the US must continue to press the junta until it is willing to negotiate an irreversible transition to democratic rule. The Burmese people deserve no less, he said.
“This means renewing the sanctions that will expire this year, and it means vigorous enforcement by our Treasury Department of the targeted financial sanctions in place against regime leaders. And it means being perfectly clear that we stand on the side of freedom for the Burmese people, and against those who seek to abridge it,” McCain said.
Howard Berman, chairman of the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and its ranking member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in another statement, demanded the immediate release of Suu Kyi.
“The military junta should immediately release her, allow greater political freedoms in the country, and respect the human rights of all of Burma’s citizens,” the two congresspersons said.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters at his daily press briefing that the Obama administration’s position is that Suu Kyi shouldn't be under house arrest.
“She shouldn't be—and even less so in prison,” Kelly said. “Our bottom line is, she should be released immediately.”
Senator Judd Gregg also spoke. “The only thing criminal about Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been the abusive injustices she and her supporters have suffered under the State Peace and Development Council,” he said. “Her transfer from house arrest to prison to face criminal charges is a serious matter that deserves the strongest condemnation from the world’s democracies—and from regional neighbors, including Thailand and China.”