Lawmakers want tougher US line on Myanmar

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 70 U.S. lawmakers say conditions in Myanmar have taken a sharp turn for the worse and want Secretary of State John Kerry to warn its government that could seriously damage bilateral relations.

In a letter to Kerry obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, the House members, both Democrats and Republicans, say that sectarian violence has spread, and that President Thein Sein's government seems to be catering to and stoking anti-Muslim sentiment. They also voice concern about military abuses against ethnic minorities, the recent jailing of journalists, and the need for constitutional reform.

The Obama administration has counted its support for former pariah state Myanmar's shift from direct military rule as one of its principal foreign policy achievements, but the letter reflects mounting congressional concern over the direction the Southeast Asian nation has taken after Washington suspended its toughest sanctions in 2012.

The lawmakers call on Kerry to sanction those complicit in abuses and atrocities, and not make further concessions to the reformist government unless there's serious progress.

"Just as the beginning of the reform process required a calibrated reassessment of U.S. policy three years ago, recent disturbing developments call for a significant recalibration now," the letter says.

Kerry is expected to visit Myanmar for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum being held in Naypyitaw on Aug. 10, and also hold bilateral meetings with Myanmar officials.

The letter is dated Thursday. Signatories include Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley, a prominent congressional voice on Myanmar, and Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs a House panel that oversees policy toward Asia, and the top-ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Last week another key congressional voice, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, called for Myanmar to reform its constitution to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president and for the military to submit to civilian rule. But he also supported U.S. engagement with Myanmar's military.

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