US President George W Bush signed a bill on Monday banning imports from Myanmar from entering American markets to send a “clear message” that the detention of Suu Kyi and the “repression” of the Myanmar people were unacceptable, said US officials.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, was arrested on 30 May after a clash between her supporters and pro-government groups.

“Sanctions are one-sided, unilateral actions taken by some without regard for the people,” said Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung.

The new US law imposes sanctions on Myanmar but limits the import ban to three years instead of continuing it indefinitely. This apparently reflects the business community’s concerns about the difficulty of lifting sanctions once they are imposed.

The US imported $356 million worth of textiles, clothing, footwear and other goods from Myanmar in 2002.

International criticism for Suu Kyi’s detention has mounted, including an unprecedented rebuke from Myanmar’s neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN support

Suu Kyi is said to be in good
spirits and health

But Foreign Ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, key players in ASEAN, said sanctions were not the answer.

“We can’t simply follow the American thinking, we have to look at it in our context and the interest of the people in Myanmar. Sanctions will force hardship on the people and that’s not our intention,” said Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Sayyed Hamid al-Bar.

But he did advise Myanmar to offer a date for Suu Kyi’s release.

“If they don’t have a date, let’s watch the situation and we’ll make a decision in an appropriate time,” said Sayyed Hamid.

He did not elaborate but Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad has suggested that Myanmar might be thrown out of ASEAN if Suu Kyi were not released.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.