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Activists Laud Obama’s Move to Continue Sanctions on Burma, Call for Further International Action (click to view PDF)

May 15th, 2009
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(Washington, DC) A leading activist group today welcomed a decision by President Barack Obama to renew U.S. sanctions on the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The move comes after Burma’s military regime said it would charge the country’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient with fresh criminal charges after an American citizen broke into her home early last week.

“We welcome President Obama’s decision to extend sanctions on Burma,” said Jeremy Woodrum, director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

The move bars new U.S. investment in Burma, and was first put into place by President Clinton in 1997. In 2003 and 2007, the U.S. Congress increased the sanctions by adding and then strengthening a ban on exports from Burma to the United States. There is no ban on tourism or ban on exports to Burma. The sanctions on Burma are believed to have denied Burma’s military regime tens of billions of dollars per year.

However, a major exception to the sanctions continues in the form of Chevron’s involvement in Burma. Companies that were already doing business in Burma were grandfathered into the original 1997 executive order, which permitted the U.S. energy company Unocal to remain in Burma. Unocal was subsequently purchased by Chevron. The Financial Times recently reported that, according to a report prepared by the International Monetary Fund, Burma’s military regime has used an accounting trick to keep approximately $3.5 billion in proceeds from the Unocal/Chevron natural gas pipeline off of official account books, leading human rights activists to question whether Burma’s military regime is simply pocketing the money or keeping it in offshore bank accounts. The Unocal/Chevron pipeline venture also has included the French company Total and the Burmese government-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprises. The Financial Times reported that the off-the-book earnings are equivalent to a staggering 57% of Burma’s state budget.

“Now that President Obama has continued a wise policy from the United States, it is time for him to seize the moment and take action internationally,” added Woodrum. “We hope he will immediately pursue a global arms embargo at the UN Security Council, as well as an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Burma’s military regime.”