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Rights Groups Back US Call For Security Council Debate on Burma


A United States call for the U.N. to pressure Burma to free opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has received strong support from Asian human rights groups. A resolution by the U.N. Security Council is seen as one of the few remaining options for the international community to press for political reform in Burma.

The U.S. plans to introduce a resolution in the Security Council to "underscore the international community's concerns" over the situation in Burma, including Suu Kyi's detention and the lack of progress toward democracy.

The Nobel laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy, or NLD, has spent 10 of the past 17 years under house arrest. Her latest three-year term of detention, which expired at the end of May, was extended for a year last Saturday by the ruling junta. No reason was given.

The extension came despite Suu Kyi's meeting in May with senior U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, the first visit by a foreigner she had been allowed in over two years. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also made a personal appeal last month to the head of Burma's military government General Than Shwe to release her.

Debbie Stothardt, spokesperson for human rights group, Alternative ASEAN Network, says the U.N. Security Council is the right forum for pressuring Burma.

"It's very clear that Mr. Gambari's efforts have to be backed with further pressure from the U.N. Security Council," said Stothardt. "You can't secure Aung San Suu Kyi's release until the U.N. Security Council is prepared to put its money where its mouth is."

Other efforts in recent years, such as those by the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to press for political reform in Burma through so-called constructive engagement, have failed.

Malaysia and Thailand expressed disappointment over the decision to continue to hold Suu Kyi. But Burma's foreign minister, at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur this week would not meet with his Thai and Malaysian counterparts. Burma says Suu Kyi's detention is an internal matter.

Naing Aung, secretary general of the Forum for Democracy on Burma, says major regional powers, such as China and India, need to be involved in pressing for reform.

"It's time for the international community including ASEAN, and China and India to work together to give more pressure to convince for a need of a change in Burma," said Aung.

But the move by the U.S. to debate Burma in the Security Council is likely to face opposition from China and Russia - both of which have the power of veto.

The U.N. envoy's visit and the appeal by the secretary general had raised hopes for Suu Kyi's release within her party. NLD officials have told VOA they will lodge an appeal with the military next week against the continued detention, on the grounds that it is illegal.

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