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UN Human Rights Rapporteur Meets Burma Activists in Thailand

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The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma has met with human rights groups and former political prisoners during a visit to Thailand. The information he gathered from the meetings is expected to be part of a report to the United Nations.

Tomas Quintana's four-day visit included trips to the Thai border town of Mae Sot, and the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he met with Burmese human rights groups.

Rights activists describe the United Nations special rapporteur's trip as a "fact-finding mission". United Nations sources said he left Thailand Monday evening.

Inside Burma

At Mae Sot, where thousands of Burmese refugees and exiles live, Quintana met with the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners in Burma.

"The reason why he visited the Thai-Burma border is to getting information about Burmese human rights violations," explained Bo Kyi, the association's joint secretary. "So therefore his visit to us we did discuss about torture, and inside Burma and then torture in prisons and then the judicial system in Burma, medication for political prisoners and prisoners - that is like what he discussed."

Bo Kyi says Quintana expressed frustration over Burma's rights situation. Human rights groups say Burma's military government holds more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.  

Not many details


Other groups VOA contacted were reluctant to divulge details of the talks they had with Quintana. He did not meet with the news media on the trip.

Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for the Alternative ASEAN Network, says Quintana was seeking first-hand knowledge of the situation facing Burmese refugees in Thailand.

"It's a very practical move for Mr. Quintana to go to the border and to also see for himself some of the long-term consequences of the Burmese regime's human rights abuses," Stothardt said. "At least going to the border he will see for himself what impacts of the regime's human rights abuses have been."

Quintana had sought to make his fourth trip to Burma, but activists say the Burmese government did not grant him a visa.

Retaliation?

Rights groups say that may be a consequence of Qintana's call for a commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity by Burma's government, known as the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC.

Stothardt says the refusal to grant a visa was a set-back.

"It's not a good sign that the SPDC has refused access to Burma especially at this time when the regime is supposedly organizing elections to improve the situation," she said.

The military says it will hold elections later this year, but no date has been announced. Rights groups say the election, the first in 20 years, and the country's new constitution will further entrench the military's influence.

Annual report

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Burma's government has been unresponsive in the U.N.'s efforts to discuss concerns over the election. He also said he is in the process of preparing an annual report to the General Assembly in which his views about Burma will be outlined.

Burma activists say Quintana is expected to submit a report on the government's rights violations later this year.

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