Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Security Council vows to keep pressure on Myanmar rulers

Security Council vows to keep pressure on Myanmar rulers
by Gerard Aziakou
44 minutes ago

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The Security Council on Tuesday welcomed recent positive steps by Myanmar rulers but the United States vowed continued pressure to ensure a "substantive dialogue" with the democratic opposition.

The 15-member council heard a briefing from UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari on his six-day mission to Myanmar last week, which he said led to some "positive outcomes".

These include the regime's decision to lift curfews in place during anti-government protests, release over 2,700 detainees and political prisoners and allow talks between opposition chief Aung San Suu Kyi and Labor Minister Aung Kyi.

"On balance, the positive outcomes of this latest mission show that the government of Myanmar, while stressing its sovereignty and independence, can be responsive to the concerns of the international community," Gambari said.

But he conceded that the regime "has yet to provide any assurance that it will lift restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi," and cited "serious concerns about ongoing reports of human rights abuses and the willingness of the government to move forward in a new direction."

Several council members praised Gambari for his efforts but the United States and its Western allies said Myanmar rulers must do more, including allowing the UN envoy to return soon and have full access to all those he needs to see.

"He's doing a good job. His latest mission had some success," US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said of the UN troubleshooter.

"But we believe there's a need for further substantive progress and the ball is in the court of the government."

"A mix of engagement and pressure needs to be applied, calibrated as circumstances warrant," Khalilzad said, making clear he was not ruling out further unilateral or multilateral sanctions if necessary.

Indonesia's UN envoy Marty Natalegawa, who chairs the council this month, stressed the members' "renewed sense of unity" in support of Gambari's mission and of ensuring a genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

But Khalilzad's deputy, Alejandro Wolff, said members could not agree on how this sense of unity should be expressed.

He said the United States and its allies wanted a formal presidential statement while others were opposed. He said consultations would continue Wednesday.

In the meantime, Natagalewa in his capacity as council president hailed the "recent positive developments", but said members expressed concern "that many prisoners are still in jail and new arrests have occurred."

They also urge Myanmar to 'create conditions for dialogue and reconciliation by relaxing, as a first step, the conditions of detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and by pursuing the release of political prisoners and detainees," he added.

After his huddle with the council, Gambari told reporters that he planned to return to Myanmar at the invitation of the government, although "no exact date has been set".

His visit last week was his second since September when the junta crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years.

Gambari said he planned to attend a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on November 21 at the invitation of its current chairman Singapore.

Britain's UN envoy Jon Sawers stressed the need for Myanmar rulers "to reciprocate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's readiness to co-operate."

He said the regime "must remove the restraints on her access to her party, and allow other opposition leaders, ethnic minority leaders and other stakeholders to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and with one another freely and without impediment in order to ensure a genuine, inclusive and meaningful dialogue."

In Myanmar, police Tuesday arrested labor activist Su Su Nway as she distributed anti-government leaflets while a UN rights envoy held talks with members of the junta, which drew international criticism for its deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Making his first visit to the country in four years, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is probing the death toll from the bloody suppression -- put at 10 by the regime but thought by diplomats and rights groups to be far higher -- and other rights abuses.

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