U.S. senator wants Congress consulted on Myanmar sanctions: documents

September 14, 2016 12:47 PM EDT

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at the ASEAN-India Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo


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By Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Mclaughlin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Senator Cory Gardner will introduce legislation on Wednesday, coinciding with the visit to Washington of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that would require close consultation with Congress on lifting of any sanctions.

According to documents seen by Reuters, Gardner planned to introduce the "Empower Burma Act of 2016," which also includes several provisions seeking to boost the economy of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Gardner, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee that focuses partly on relations with South Asia, told Reuters he remained concerned that the military continues to hold "tremendous power and grip," over key parts of Myanmar's economy and politics.

"Hopefully the military continues to loosen its grip," Gardner said.

Unelected military officers still hold 25 percent of the seats in Myanmar's Parliament and control three key ministries.

Through two sprawling conglomerates, the military has business interests ranging from real estate development to cigarette and beer production.

Gardner said he was concerned an easing of sanctions done without "adequate filtering or monitoring," could further enrich the military and cronies who profited from a close relationship with the former military junta.

The legislation also asks for a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to promote development and supports extending the country preferential treatment under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences program, as long as it meets relevant conditions.

The bill follows a measure introduced on Tuesday by two other senators, Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican John McCain, seeking to preserve a focus on human rights in Myanmar as the United States moves toward easing or lifting sanctions.

Obama is expected to decide on the extent of the sanctions relief after consultations between Suu Kyi and his administration to gauge how far she wants Washington to go in loosening the screws on Myanmar's military.

Suu Kyi met Obama at the White House on Wednesday on her first visit to the United States since her party won a sweeping victory in last year's election, capping a decades-long journey from political prisoner to national leader.

She is trying to strike a balance between showing her people the economic rewards of a democratic transition while keeping pressure on the country's generals for further reforms.

Human rights groups also remain deeply concerned about the oppression of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who remain stateless and largely confined to camps near Myanmar's western coast.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Paul Simao)



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