US blacklists influential Myanmar lawmaker for trying to 'undermine reforms'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States placed influential Myanmar lawmaker and businessman Aung Thaung on its sanctions blacklist Friday, accusing him of blocking key reforms.

The current member of parliament and former industry minister, 73, is said to be one of the more hardline members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party founded by former military strongman General Than Shwe and now led by President Thein Sein.

The US Treasury sanctions freeze any US-based assets he might have and ban Americans from doing business with him.

But the US stressed the sanctions apply to Aung Thaung alone, and not to any government organisation with which he is associated.

"Aung Thaung is actively attempting to undermine recent economic and political reforms in Burma (Myanmar) and has been implicated in previous attacks on Burma's democratic opposition," the Treasury said.

"As the United States continues to support and monitor Burma's reforms, including democratic reform and the national peace process, we remain concerned that certain individuals have been working to counter these efforts."

The move comes as Myanmar's parliament agreed to consider changing the country's constitution to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for the presidency next year.

The current charter bars her from being president, yet her National League for Democracy party is considered likely to win the polls in 2015 if they are free and fair.

The NLD has focused on altering a provision in the constitution that ensures the military in the former junta-ruled nation has a veto on any amendment to the charter.

It believes revising the clause will open the way for further changes to other constitutional provisions, including the ring-fenced proportion of soldiers in parliament and the effective bar on Suu Kyi becoming president.

Suu Kyi is currently ineligible because of a clause in the 2008 charter blocking anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country.

The Nobel peace laureate's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

The White House said Thursday that US President Barack Obama spoke to Thein Sein and Suu Kyi about next year's elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under the quasi-civilian government.