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US Requests UN Security Council Briefing on Burma

The United States has renewed its effort to have Burma placed on the U.N. Security Council agenda as a threat to international peace and security. Washington's ambassador is pressing Secretary-General Kofi Annan to personally provide a briefing on conditions in Burma.

U.S Ambassador John Bolton sent a letter to the Security Council president Monday asking for a high-level briefing on what he called "the deteriorating situation in Burma." As he entered the Council chamber Tuesday to press his case, he said he is asking Secretary-General Annan to make the presentation himself. "I spoke last night with the secretary-general, to ask him to do the briefing personally. We had asked him to do the briefing on Friday, but he indicated his schedule might be tight, and what I told him was that we certainly understood that, we'd be prepared to wait until he returned from his trip, so he would have the opportunity to do the briefing himself," he said.

But in a closed-door session, the Security Council Tuesday delayed action on the briefing request. Diplomats said China requested the delay, with Algeria, Japan and Russia also expressing doubt about the need for Security Council attention.

Mr. Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, Tuesday was skeptical that a briefing could be arranged soon. The secretary-general will be away from headquarters most of the month of December. He leaves this weekend for a 14-day trip to Asia.

A formal Council request for a briefing would be a diplomatic victory for Washington, which earlier this year failed to garner the nine votes needed to place Burma on the agenda. Veto-wielding China and Russia were among those opposed.

The briefing is significant because it could lead to Burma's placement on the permanent Council agenda, opening the way for further action.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Andrey Denisov, who has held the Council presidency during November, said Moscow agrees there is reason to be concerned about human rights abuses by Burma's military rulers. But he questioned whether Burma merits consideration by the Council, whose mandate is limited to threats to international peace and security.

"There are a lot of problems that draw attention of the international community, of the UN, and I mentioned example of human rights, and of course they do exist, but what we are speaking about is whether there is immediate and clear threat to international peace and security or not," he said.

Ambassador Bolton emerged from the Council chamber Tuesday saying he had made a strong case to other envoys that Burma does meet the threat criteria necessary to warrant Council attention. "The Security Council mandate is threats to international peace and security, and when you look at the cross-border flows of refugees out of Burma, caused by their internally repressive policies, when you look at their international narcotics trafficking with its broad international implications and potential destabilization in the region and when you look at the potentially destabilizing effect of their human rights practices, I think that's more than enough to warrant a briefing by the secretary general, which is all we've asked for at this stage," he said.

The U.S. request came two days after Burma's military rulers extended the house arrest for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel peace prize laureate has spent 10 of the last 16 years in detention.

Earlier this year, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, along with another Nobel peace laureate, South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, released a report urging the Security Council to place Burma on the agenda.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution criticizing systematic violations of human rights in the country.