Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise to note final passage last week of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, which extends sanctions on the Burmese regime for another year. As in years past, I am joined in this effort by my good friend, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Alongside the two of us are 64 other cosponsors, including Senators McCain, Durbin, and Lieberman. This overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctioning the junta reflects the clear view of the U.S. Senate that the purportedly ``new'' Burmese regime that took office earlier this year so far appears little different from the ``old'' regime.
The casual observer could be excused for thinking that things have changed dramatically for the better in Burma over the past year. After all, elections were held last fall, a ``new'' regime took office earlier this year, and Aung San Suu Kyi was freed. However, as our experience with Burma has taught us, things there usually require a closer look.
First, the November elections took place without the benefit of international election monitors, and no reputable observers viewed the elections as free or fair. This was in large part because the National League for Democracy--Suu Kyi's party and the winner overwhelmingly of the last free elections in the country in 1990--was effectively banned by the junta and couldn't participate in the election. There were restrictions placed on how other political parties could form and campaign. No criticism of the junta was permitted. And the results were unsurprising: the regime's handpicked candidates won big and the democratic opposition was largely sidelined.
Second, the ``new'' regime appears to be essentially the junta with only the thinnest democratic veneer. The Constitution, which places great power in the hands of the military, cannot be amended without the blessing of the armed forces. Furthermore, those in parliament are limited in how they can criticize the regime.
The only legitimately good news was Suu Kyi's release. Yet the extent of her freedom to travel remains an open question. Moreover, despite her release, nearly 2,000 other political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma; they are no better off than before. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons who are without a home due to the repressive policies of the junta.
That the political situation in Burma remains largely unchanged is also reflected in the defection this summer of two Burmese diplomats. One of them was the Burmese Deputy Chief of Mission here in Washington. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of State requesting political asylum and, according to press reports, in the letter, he stated as follows:
My efforts to improve bilateral ties have been continually rejected and resulted in my being deemed dangerous by the government. Because of this, I am also convinced and live in fear that I will be prosecuted for my actions, efforts, and beliefs when I return to Naypyidaw after completing my tour of duty here. The truth is that senior military officials are consolidating their grip on power and seeking to stamp out the voices of those seeking democracy, human rights, and individual liberties.
These words do not come from a Western government or an NGO; they come from a senior Burmese diplomat. His words make clear that the democratic trappings of the ``new'' regime are in many ways just a fac 9ade.
Finally, it is worth noting that there remain important security considerations that must be addressed before ending sanctions. The junta's increasingly close bilateral military relationship with North Korea, in particular, is a source of much concern.
I am hopeful that the time will soon come when sanctions against the Burmese government will no longer be needed; that like South Africa in the early 1990s, the people of Burma will be able to free themselves from their own government. However, as evidenced in the Deputy Chief of Mission's letter, the Burmese junta appears to maintain an iron grip on its people, and continues to carry out a foreign policy that is inimical to U.S. interests. The United States must continue to deny this regime the legitimacy it craves by continuing sanctions, and these sanctions must remain in place until true democratic reform comes to the people of Burma.