U.S. Makes a Push for U.N. Action on Burma
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 2, 2006; A21

The United States moved yesterday to formally add Burma to the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, potentially exposing the Southeast Asian nation, which is ruled by a military junta, to international condemnation for human rights violations and other abuses.

John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he sent a letter to the council’s president, Greek Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, requesting that Burma fall under the council’s scrutiny because the junta’s behavior threatens regional peace and security.

Bolton and other U.S. officials said they are confident they have the necessary nine votes, among the 15 council members, to add Burma to the agenda. China in particular has opposed the move — and could veto any potential resolution — but U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have worked relentlessly in recent months to line up the votes. Opponents of Security Council action have argued that the venue is appropriate only for threats to international peace and security, not human rights violations.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is regarded as one of the world’s most repressive nations. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, won a landslide electoral victory in 1990 that the military leadership refused to accept. She has been repeatedly held in confinement since then.

After the junta extended Suu Kyi’s detention for another year, NLD Chairman U Aung Shwe and Secretary U Lwin wrote U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan a letter dated June 1 saying “we believe that there is no alternative except some actions of the Security Council.” They wrote that a spreading AIDS epidemic and severe repression of ethnic groups who spill over into neighboring countries have threatened the stability of the region.

The administration’s success was aided by the fact that many of Burma’s neighbors — which in the past have strongly opposed adding a Southeast Asian nation to the Security Council docket — have increasingly soured on the junta. Indonesia Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said last week that the other nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have told Burma that they will no longer defend it if brought before the Security Council. “You must defend yourself,” he said.

“Even Burma’s friends have abandoned it,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Malinowski, who said he “has been waiting 17 years for this moment,” said he gave the Bush administration “high marks for their diplomacy on this issue,” because when the effort began in earnest a year ago, there was little support in Asia or other parts of the world for tackling Burma’s problems. “They said it couldn’t be done,” he said.

Another key player was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, who met with Rice in May to press for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the Burmese military junta to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and halt a counterinsurgency campaign that is targeting civilians. Tutu has campaigned around the world for Security Council action, likening the struggle in Burma to the fight against apartheid.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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