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U.S. freezes assets, restricts travel of Myanmar junta

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. Treasury Department freezing the assets of 14 members of government
  • State Department is also imposing travel restrictions on those senior members
  • U.S. official: Myanmar government should look to diplomacy rather than force
  • President Bush: "The American people stand in solidarity," with demonstrators
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(CNN) -- The United States imposed new sanctions on Myanmar's ruling junta Thursday as its Southeast Asian neighbors urged a peaceful resolution to growing political unrest in the country.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced it is freezing the assets of 14 senior members of Myanmar's government.

The State Department is also imposing travel restrictions against the same junta leaders.

Myanmar state media said nine people have been killed in a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, during which soldiers reportedly fired into crowds and beat Buddhist monks. A Japanese journalist was among the dead, Japan's Foreign Ministry confirmed.

"The Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military and start thinking about the need for some genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country," Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Thursday.

President Bush also weighed in.

"The world is watching the people of Burma [now known as Myanmar] take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals," Bush said in a statement read by press secretary Dana Perino.

"I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese junta to cease using force on its own people, who are peacefully expressing their desire for change," the statement said.

Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon dispatched envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar. The Myanmar government said Thursday that he will be welcomed.

After an informal meeting Thursday at the United Nations, the foreign ministers who make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged Myanmar to stop the suppression. They called for the release of all political prisoners, including iconic activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel Prize winner, has been under house arrest on and off for years.

"They were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators," said the statement, read by ASEAN Chairman George Yeo, Singapore's foreign minister.

"They expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities."

Myanmar is an active member of the 10-nation association, which includes its neighbor Thailand as well as Singapore and Indonesia.

The foreign ministers "strongly urged Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution," the statement continued. "They called upon Myanmar to resume its efforts at national reconciliation with all parties concerned and work toward a peaceful transition to democracy," the ASEAN statement read.

"I think Myanmar have their own position," Yeo added. "We are really gravely concerned."

Other influential nations weighed in as well.

Japan, a source of much of Myanmar's foreign aid, urged the junta not to "high-handedly resort to violence," Kyodo News Agency reported.

"We strongly expect that the situation will be resolved through dialogue," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said, according to Kyodo.

Prime Minister John Howard of Australia announced sanctions on Myanmar's "loathsome regime" and pushed China "to exert a positive influence on the regime," Kyodo reported.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu urged the government of Myanmar to show restraint in dealing with the protesters.

"China has paid great attention to the situation in Myanmar and we hope that all concerned parties of Myanmar show restraint and properly handle the current issue," she said Thursday, according China's Xinhua news agency. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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