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First Lady Visits Burmese Refugees

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First lady Laura Bush, meeting with refugees who fled a brutal campaign by Burma's military junta, urged China and other countries on Thursday to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions against the country. Video by AP

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U.S. efforts to isolate Burma through sanctions have had limited impact, with countries such as India and China resistant to steps that might threaten their financial interests there. The U.S. Congress recently imposed a new ban on the import of jade and other precious stones from Burma.

Despite such moves, the Burmese government has proved highly resilient, as well as suspicious, resisting many international offers of assistance after Cyclone Nargis partly out of fear that outsiders would try to undermine its rule.

If the Bushes' rhetoric has not moved the hearts of Burma's military rulers, it seemed to be popular among refugees the first lady met here, some of whom conveyed fresh complaints about the authorities.

Hay Lary, an ethnic Karen who has taught in the camp, said she was pleased by Bush's presence because she might bring new resources for refugees. "We need more education for this camp and especially for the people here," Lary, 39, said.

Lary, who has been living along the border for nearly 20 years, is leaving the camp shortly, bound for South Carolina along with her husband and five children, ages 7 through 13. Her family is part of an increasing flow of Burmese refugees to the United States, especially members of the Karen minority. According to Bush and her aides, roughly 30,000 Burmese have emigrated to the United States since 2005. The number has surged, officials said, since Congress undid what the officials termed a technicality in the law that penalized many prospective refugees because of an insurgency being mounted by some of the Karen inside Burma.

Bush made clear that while her preference was for refugees to return home, that is not possible under current conditions.

She also suggested that her advocacy goes only so far. When a radio reporter suggested that than many Burmese would support an "invasion" to replace the current government, Bush chuckled and replied, "They need to talk to somebody else -- not the first lady."

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.


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