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Myanmar Back on U.N. Agenda

Times Staff Writer

The Security Council held a discussion of human rights and drug trafficking problems in Myanmar on Friday after months of pushing by the United States and Britain.

Some members of the council, especially China, had opposed talking about the reclusive Southeast Asian country, saying its problems did not pose a threat to international peace and security.

But diplomats said the United States and Britain argued in the closed-door meeting that conditions within the country destabilized the region, as refugees, drugs and slave labor flowed across its borders.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that despite disagreement about whether those problems constitute an international threat, the meeting was an important first step.

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“What everybody acknowledges is that there are a massive number of problems in today’s Myanmar, and the international community should do more to help address those problems,” he said.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, has become increasingly repressive and isolated under the current military regime. In 1990, the junta allowed democratic elections. But when the opposition National League for Democracy won more than 80% of the vote, the military refused to honor the result.

The charismatic party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been in detention on and off for 10 of the last 16 years, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her resistance. The government just extended her house arrest for another six months.

Additional pressure to address Myanmar came from a September report commissioned by Desmond Tutu, another Nobel peace laureate, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

The report alleges human rights violations including the rape of ethnic minority women and the spread of HIV by soldiers; widespread forced labor; destruction of more than 2,700 villages; massive forced relocations; and the torture and killing of political prisoners.

As many as 70,000 children have been forced to become soldiers, and more than 700,000 refugees have fled across the border into Thailand and other countries, it said. Myanmar also is a leading producer of opium and amphetamine, and its heroin trade has made it a primary contributor to the spread of AIDS in Southeast Asia, the report charges.

More than 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the report.

“This is only a first step, and the U.N. Security Council must show that it is serious about follow up,” Havel said in a statement Friday. “The U.N. Security Council action could represent a new dawn for change in Burma.”

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Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N.'s chief of political affairs, told the Security Council that the U.N.'s special envoy for the country had been refused entry for more than a year and a half.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Asian leaders for action during a recent trip to an economic summit in South Korea.

This week, the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations authorized Malaysia’s foreign minister to visit Myanmar to push for “tangible results” in the country’s democratic reforms.

Myanmar has produced a seven-stage road map toward free elections and held a constitutional convention earlier this month, but without Suu Kyi’s opposition party.

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One of the conditions imposed by China and like-minded countries was that the Security Council discussion of Myanmar be a one-time event.

Discussions regarding politically sensitive situations in Sudan and Zimbabwe faced similar resistance by China and Russia, which generally object to interference in a country’s internal affairs, as well as African countries.

But Britain and the U.S. slipped them onto the agenda, and now problems in both African countries are being addressed by the council.


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