The U.S. Senate has voted unanimously on a resolution urging Southeast Asian leaders to suspend Burma from their regional group, following the country's violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
The resolution adopted Friday calls on the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to consider disciplinary measures, including suspension, until Burma's military government demonstrates an "improved respect for and commitment to human rights."
Earlier Friday, Human Rights Watch called on ASEAN to impose an arms embargo and other targeted sanctions on Burma's government. The group also expressed concern that a landmark charter to be signed by ASEAN members next week lacks a clear mechanism to take action against states like Burma.
Officials from ASEAN member nations will begin arriving in Singapore Saturday for their annual summit.
ASEAN leaders are divided on how to approach Burma and the question of how members should deal with what many believe is a rising threat to regional security.
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia want to maintain the group's traditional approach of constructive engagement. Others, such as Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, are leaning towards more decisive action.
On Tuesday, ASEAN will mark the 40th year since its establishment by signing a new charter. The new charter will put the group on track for setting up a free trade zone by 2015.
Deaths from Crackdown
A U.N. human-rights envoy says the Burmese military's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations two months ago killed at least 15 people in Rangoon alone.
The United Nations representative, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, says he cannot tell whether the casualty estimate is accurate, but that Burmese authorities told him it was based on official documents.
Burma's military rulers previously had said 10 people died in the September protests.
Pinheiro said Burmese authorities discussed only the incidents in Rangoon, the country's largest city, and that he received no information about possible casualties in other parts of the southeast Asian nation.
The U.N. official says the international community owes it to the people of Burma to come up with a coordinated response to the government crackdown.
Pinheiro told reporters in Bangkok Friday that he saw post-mortem reports on 14 of those killed when the military broke up demonstrations in Rangoon (on September 26th and 27th). The 15th person killed was a Japanese journalist shot to death by Burmese security forces.
Pinheiro traveled to Thailand after a five-day trip to Burma -- his first visit in four years -- which was intended to uncover details of human-rights violations committed during and after the September crackdown. He is expected to present a report on his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council on December 11th.
Pinheiro said he was not allowed to meet with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as he had requested, but that he did visit the notorious Insein Prison.
A lawyer for Burma's main opposition party says the military government freed six political prisoners from the prison shortly after Pinheiro met with detainees there on Thursday.
In addition to those killed, Burmese officials have said nearly three thousand people were detained in the September crackdown. Diplomats and human rights groups say the true figures are much higher.
Meanwhile, First Lady Laura Bush issued a statement Friday, praising the Jewelers of America and member companies such as Tiffany and Cartier for opposing the importation of Burmese gems.
Mrs. Bush called for a global boycott of gems from Burma, urging companies to shun a gem show in Rangoon. In the statement, she said the sale of gems is the Burmese government's third largest source of revenue.
She also said that every stone bought, cut, polished and sold from Burma helps sustain what she called an "illegitimate, repressive regime."
Some information for this report provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.