Pressure on Burma grows at United Nations

Key United Nations powers stepped up calls for Burma to release political prisoners after an envoy to the repressive state warned of ”serious international repercussions” from the bloody turmoil there.

The United States signalled on Friday it may push for UN sanctions if the ruling junta kept up a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and Western UN powers circulated a draft statement condemning its ”violent repression”.

”It is … essential for Burma’s leadership to recognise that what happens inside Burma can have serious international repercussions,” the world body’s special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, said in his first report to UN Security Council since his return on Thursday from a visit to Yangon.

”No country can afford to act in isolation from the standards by which all members of the international community are held,” he said.

Burma’s rulers, meanwhile, broadcast rare footage of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on state television for the first time in at least four years.

They said they had freed hundreds of detained monks, and restored internet access after a week — but only during a military-imposed curfew, users reported. The steps appeared aimed at appeasing the international outrage over their crackdown.

Gambari told CNN International after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in her Yangon home that she had seemed ”encouraged by the fact that the people of Burma spoke up”.

”But now I think she wants this to be used as an opportunity to really engage in dialogue with the authorities so that together they can move the country forward,” he said.

After a closed-door session with Security Council members, Gambari told reporters on Friday that there was a consensus among members that the status quo in the unrest-hit South-east Asian country ”is unacceptable and unsustainable and probably unrealistic”.

He also said he was considering a return visit to Burma earlier than mid-November, as initially arranged, saying this would be useful ”to keep the momentum” generated by his visit earlier this week, which offered ”a window of opportunity”.

The draft statement circulated late on Friday to the council contained an appeal to the ruling generals ”to ensure full and unlimited access for Gambari during his visit”.

”The Security Council condemns the violent repression by the government of Burma of peaceful demonstrations, including the use of force against religious figures and institutions,” said the text, drafted by the US, Britain and France.

Gambari added that he was awaiting a ”concrete” response from the military junta to his call for the release of political prisoners, humanitarian access to those in need, cessation of hostilities against ethnic minorities and for dealing with the underlying cause of discontent.

Taking a more hard-line stance, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the council Washington was prepared to introduce a sanctions resolution if the military rulers fail to cooperate with Gambari.

China, which has close ties with Burma and favours constructive engagement with its military regime, warned putting pressure on the junta ”would lead to confrontation.”

China has already opposed past bids for UN sanctions, vetoing a US-sponsored draft resolution in January, along with Russia.

But Burma topped the UN agenda again after last week’s pro-democracy protests, sparked by a hike in fuel prices, drew more than 100 000 people onto the streets of Yangon, prompting a violent crackdown and more than 2,000 arrests.

Meanwhile, a global day of demonstrations against Burma’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protests started in Sydney on Saturday, where about 250 people called for a stronger international response.

”We are united in opposition to the military dictatorship in Burma. It’s time for the regime to start reconciliation,” said rally organiser Maung Maung Than (40), calling for Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners to be freed.

Hot weather and a lack of local media coverage may have kept the numbers down at the protest in central Sydney. — AFP



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Gerard Aziakou
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