December 2, 2005

UN council backs US bid for first Myanmar meeting

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council agreed for
the first time on Friday to discuss human rights in Myanmar
after its rulers extended house arrest for opposition leader
and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for another

But the action, which came at Washington's request, fell
short of adding the situation in the military-led Southeast
Asian country to the council's formal agenda.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said he hoped U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan would agree to brief the 15-member
council personally on Myanmar in the next few weeks.

No date was set for the closed-door briefing, which the
council agreed to unanimously, and it was unclear if Annan
would accept.

"I think it is quite important that the situation in Burma
will now be before the council," Bolton told reporters. U.S.
officials routinely refer to Myanmar as Burma, the country's
name before the ruling junta changed it in 1990.

Putting the matter on the council's formal agenda would
have opened the way to further discussions as well as official
council statements and resolutions. But it also would have
required the support of nine members if a vote was demanded.

The United States has unilaterally imposed wide-ranging
sanctions on Myanmar, including a ban on most imports, and has
criticized Asia-Pacific nations for not speaking out against
the country's human rights record.


Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who earlier questioned
the U.S. plan along with China, Russia and Japan, said the
council action meant only that there would be a briefing.

"That means there is no follow-up, and we do not expect any
follow-up," Baali said.

Bolton urged a long-term view, telling reporters to "keep
your eyes on the prize."

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma called the
move "especially significant ... because it had been widely
presumed that China and Russia would refuse to participate."

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, a
Rockville, Maryland, group saying it represents a government in
exile, called the action "but a small step forward" because the
council failed to put the matter on its formal agenda.

An earlier U.S. attempt to shine a Security Council
spotlight on political repression in Myanmar was rebuffed in
June when Russia, backed by China and Algeria, argued the issue
was outside the council's mandate to ensure international peace
and security.

Bolton raised the matter again earlier this week, only to
have China object it needed more time to study it.

Bolton had asked the council for the briefing in a letter
expressing concern about "the deteriorating situation" in the
country, which the military has ruled since 1962, ignoring a
1990 landslide election victory by Suu Kyi's National League
for Democracy party.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since May 2003.
Officials informed her last weekend of the decision to extend
her detention by 12 months.