U.S. senators set bill to keep focus on rights in Myanmar: document

September 13, 2016 11:35 AM EDT

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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior U.S. senators will introduce legislation on Tuesday intended to preserve a focus on human rights issues in Myanmar, amid expectations that the Obama administration will further ease or lift sanctions, according to a summary of the measure seen by Reuters.

The "Cardin-McCain Burma Strategy Act of 2016" would be introduced the same day that Aung San Suu Kyi, the new leader of Myanmar, also known as Burma, arrives in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama, members of Congress and other top U.S. officials.

The measure was co-sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

According to the summary seen by Reuters, the legislation sets "benchmarks and guidelines" on sanctions relief, by calling on the U.S. Secretary of State to assess and make recommendations regarding modifying or lifting sanctions, with a focus on issues such as democracy and ethnic reconciliation.

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 still-powerful military.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy icon, helped persuade the West to impose sanctions during her years as a jailed opposition leader. She is now 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.

However, Myanmar's military retains a strong hand in its politics through a military-drafted constitution and an economic power base. And human rights groups remain deeply concerned about the oppression of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority.

The legislation authorizes economic assistance to support civil society organizations and provide humanitarian assistance and creates a Burma-America Development Fund to provide incentives for private sector investment in the country.

The legislation to be introduced on Tuesday also authorizes limited military-to-military engagement between the United States and Myanmar. And it calls for a report on the country's gemstone industry.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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