Saturday, November 17, 2007

China Calls for Quick Reforms in Burma

YANGON, Myanmar Nov 17, 2007 (AP)

Share China called on Myanmar to speed up democratic reforms, state media reported Saturday an unusual move for Beijing, which has traditionally refrained from criticizing the military regime.

The call came as a U.N. human rights investigator wrapped up a trip to the country that he said had helped him to determine that at least 15 people died during the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi also expressed support for U.N. attempts to reconcile the regime and the suppressed democracy movement during a two-day meeting with the junta that ended Friday. The state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported the meeting only after Wang had left the country.

China, a communist country whose own record on democratic reforms and human rights has been criticized, is one of Myanmar's largest trading partners and its main political ally.

Beijing does not usually publicly criticize Myanmar's military government, a reflection of its position of strict noninterference in the internal affairs of the country.

But in recent weeks, it has been credited with working behind the scenes to pressure Myanmar to embrace democratic reforms after the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

China also provided important backing for the mission of Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. secretary general's special envoy on Myanmar, by supporting a Security Council declaration and helping persuade Myanmar to allow him to visit twice.

As Wang's visit ended Friday, U.N. human rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro announced that at least 15 people died in Myanmar's biggest city when the military crushed the demonstrations, five more than the government had acknowledged.

"This is just in Yangon," Pinheiro said. "The government has not told me all the casualties in the country."

He said numbers were based on post-mortems and other official information, adding that he would continue seeking relevant information from other sources.

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