US President George W. Bush froze the assets of state-owned companies in Myanmar that he said are propping up the ruling junta.
“These companies, in industries such as gems and timber, exploit the labor of the downtrodden Burmese people, but enrich only the generals,” Bush said yesterday about Myanmar.
The new order allows the Bush administration to go after state-owned enterprises, which it previously lacked the authority to do. The US government already has taken the power to go after individuals and companies in Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962.
In remarks at the White House marking Asian Pacific American heritage month, Bush said the military regime in Myanmar continues to reject the will of its people to live under a system headed by people of their own choosing.
“Over the past eight months, my administration has tightened sanctions on the regime,” he said. “We’ve imposed visa bans on the junta’s generals and their families and their cronies, trying to send a clear message, and we hope the rest of the world follows as well.”
The junta took control in Myanmar in 1988.
Myanmar’s government has been widely criticized for human-rights abuses and suppression of pro-democracy parties such as the one led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years.
Last September, at least 31 people were killed and thousands more detained when the military cracked down on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks and democracy advocates.
Dissidents in Myanmar and exile groups elsewhere have urged their countrymen to vote next Saturday in a referendum against a proposed constitution, which opponents say it is a ploy to perpetuate military rule. The junta scrapped the previous document when they took power.
“The people of Burma have long awaited the opportunity to live in a true democracy,” Bush said. “The referendum vote scheduled for May 10, 2008, could have been that opportunity. However, Than Shwe and his regime are ensuring that the referendum vote will be on a dangerously flawed constitution, and will not be free, fair or credible.”
Bush said the military government continues to ignore calls from the Burmese people and the international community for a process that could result in a legitimate constitution.
“They continue to carry out a campaign to intimidate voters and to arrest those who dare speak out against the flaws of the referendum and draft constitution,” he said.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued an order against Myanmar Gem Enterprise, Myanmar Pearl Enterprise and Myanmar Timber Enterprise, companies owned or controlled by the state, US Treasury Department spokesman John Rankin said.
The action means that any assets found in the US belonging to the three companies are blocked. Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.
The rationale behind designating the three companies is that they are an important source of money for the junta, Rankin said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of government workers in Myanmar were forced to vote in favor of an army-drafted constitution in non-secret ballots, held more than a week before a May 10 referendum, some of the workers said.
In one of the cases, about 700 employees in the Ministry of Electric Power-2’s Yangon office were forced to tick their ballot papers with local referendum officials observing, witnesses said.
“We were all shocked and some people were furious but they couldn’t do anything,” said one of those present on Wednesday, who did not want to be identified for fear of recrimination.
“They said those who wanted to vote ‘no’ had to hand in their resignation,” the worker said.
Civil servants in government ministries in Naypyidaw, the new capital, also reported advance voting in which they were forced to endorse the charter.
“They even told us to ensure that all our family members vote ‘yes.’ I’m really angry with myself because I couldn’t do anything,” said one of them, an educated middle-ranking officer.
“I have to stick it out because of my family. I’ve never felt more humiliated in about 20 years service here. I really wish I had voted ‘no,’” he said.
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