Lawmakers urge United Nations action over Myanmar crackdown

By P. Parameswaran, WASHINGTON, AFP

U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday called on President George W. Bush’s administration to demand an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting on the Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on dissent.

Senior lawmakers from the House of Representatives and the Senate wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to press for such a meeting, as pro-democracy supporters in Myanmar defied a clampdown and staged rare street protests against a staggering increase in fuel prices.

More than 100 people have been arrested, including some of the nation’s top pro-democracy leaders, following the largest non-violent demonstrations in Myanmar in five years.

“We strongly urge you to send a letter to the President of the Security Council requesting U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to expeditiously provide a complete briefing to the Security Council,” Tom Lantos, the Democratic head of the House’s foreign relations committee, and four other lawmakers from the chamber wrote.

A similar call was made in a separate letter to the chief U.S. diplomat by the Senate’s Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein.

“The current situation in Burma merits a strong and meaningful response by our government,” they said.

The lawmakers welcomed the Bush administration’s swift condemnation of theMyanmar junta’s “brutal behavior” as well as similar condemnations from France and Britain — two other permanent members of the Security Council — along with Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, the European Union, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“However, at this critical juncture, words of support from the world’s democracies are not enough,” McConnell and Feinstein said. “The matter needs to be addressed by the U.N. Security Council.”

There was no immediate reaction from Rice’s office but Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said earlier Wednesday that Washington expected discussions on Myanmar in the Security Council as well as during the upcoming meetings of the General Assembly.

With full bipartisan support from Congress, the United States has led a diplomatic drive to place the Myanmar issue on the permanent agenda of the U.N. Security Council.

“We must avail ourselves of this diplomatic forum; the brave people of Burma deserve no less,” Lantos and the other House legislators said.

In addition to the current crackdown, they said, the U.N. Security Council could also act to stop the junta’s alleged “war” against ethnic minorities, use of “rape as a weapon of war” and recruitment of child soldiers.

The United States has a longstanding ban on all imports from Myanmar and new investments and exports of financial services to Myanmar. It also denies visas to top junta officials as part of sanctions against Yangon.

Last January, China and Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution urging Myanmar’s rulers to free all political detainees and end sexual violence by the military.

The United Nations estimates there are some 1,100 political prisoners in Myanmar, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.