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UN Diplomat Expresses Frustration with Human Rights Situation, Lack of Diplomatic Action in Burma

The special U.N. human rights envoy for Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has expressed frustration with the human rights situation in that nation and the lack of coordinated international diplomatic action to push the ruling military junta to a democratic transition.

Mr. Pinheiro says he sees little change in Burma since he took on the role of special human rights envoy almost six years ago. Instead, he says, Burma's isolation is increasing.

Mr. Pinheiro, whose term expires at the end of March, submitted his last UN report Thursday, telling a U.N. General Assembly committee he has grave concerns about systematic human rights abuses in Burma.

The U.N. envoy says improvements in Burma will only happen if the international community engages the government in consistent diplomatic dialogue. "I think diplomacy is missing, quiet [diplomacy], not megaphone diplomacy. You have to be silent, persistent, not to use the carrot and stick approach. You do not treat countries with the carrot and stick. This is not diplomacy," he said.

Mr. Pinheiro has not been allowed to visit Burma since November 2003. More than one-thousand people are in jail in Burma for political reasons, and the recognized winner of democratic elections in 1990, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.

Britain, France and the United States have been pushing Burma to reform, but China, Russia and some neighboring nations are less enthusiastic. Mr. Pinheiro says regional players such as ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian nations, must be drawn into the discussions. "I think the involvement of ASEAN countries is essential. But I think Europe and the United States must have a more coordinated action with ASEAN, more coordinated and continued. You have to be consistent. You have to have a continuity of effort," he said.

Special envoy Pinheiro says the Burmese people are the real victims of diplomatic and humanitarian retreat. In August, the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria terminated its services after the government imposed new restrictions.