The US House of Representatives voted almost unanimously Tuesday to impose a trade blockade on Myanmar in protest at the detention of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The vote, by 418 votes to two, would make an embargo a virtual certainty. A blockade has already been overwhelmingly approved by 97 votes to one in the Senate, and the White House has indicated that US President George W. Bush would sign the trade ban into law.
The vote comes in the same week that the UK Foreign Office wrote to British tour operators asking them to stop arranging holidays to Myanmar because of the regime's human rights record.
The House bill would ban imports from Myanmar for three years, expand the current ban on travel to the US by members of the military government and codify the existing policy of opposing new international loans or technical assistance to the country.
The Senate has backed an indefinite embargo, but US busi-nesses have complained that sanctions should be made temporary because, once imposed by Congress, they are difficult to lift.
The differences between the Senate and House bills will have to be reconciled at a joint meeting on the issue, and the Senate is expected to seek a rapid compromise.
Suu Kyi, a past winner of the Nobel prize for peace, has been held by Myanmar's military government since May 30, after her motorcade was ambushed by government loyalists.
The US had been on the point of imposing sanctions when the restrictions on Suu Kyi's movement were lifted in May last year.
After her arrest Suu Kyi was held in the infamous Insein prison near Yangon under conditions that the UN described as "absolutely deplorable," but the junta was this month reported to have transferred her to another, undisclosed, location.
Last year the US bought US$356 million worth of goods from Myanmar, mostly textiles, clothing, and footwear, and sanctions are likely to have a devastating impact on the country's economy.
The EU has also threatened to impose sanctions in the wake of the detention. However, the military junta has said it will not respond to pressure.
An article published by several pro-government newspapers has warned: "This blind and prejudiced meddling in Myanmar's home affairs, supporting one side while opposing the other by America and its west European allies, have adversely affected the nation's internal stability."
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday warned the government of Myanmar that the sanctions will result in severe economic hardship.
"I've been trying to warn Burma that they should not let this embargo begin, because once it begins it will be hard to end," Thaksin told reporters at Government House. .. But this is their internal affair. We can only give advice as a friendly neighbor," he said.