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Security Council Asks for Human Rights Briefing on Burma

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously agreed to a U.S. request for a briefing on human rights in Burma. Washington is seeking to have Burma placed on the council's permanent agenda.

In a closed-door session Friday, the Security Council agreed for the first time to take up the issue of Burma. By consensus, the 15-member body asked the U.N. secretariat for a briefing on what the United States described as "the deteriorating situation" in the country, which is called Myanmar by its military rulers.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton called the Council decision "significant." A similar attempt to get the Council to discuss Burma earlier this year failed for lack of support.

Ambassador Bolton cautioned, however, that the informal briefing does not constitute placing Burma on the Council's formal agenda as a threat to international peace and security. That, he suggested, remains Washington's long-term goal.

"That is the way U.N. circles work, that we've got unanimity, but as one of my mentors used to say, keep your eyes on the prize, and what's going to happen here is that we're going to get a briefing, hopefully from the secretary-general, on Burma," said Mr. Bolton. "That's what we sought. That's what we're going to get."

No date for the briefing has been set, and it was not immediately clear whether Secretary-General Annan would accept the U.S. request to make the presentation himself. The secretary-general's voice would add weight to the briefing, but Mr. Annan suggested Friday that he might delegate the job to a lower-ranking official.

"If the Council asked for the briefing, I will arrange for a briefing to be given," said Mr. Annan.

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

Despite the unanimous briefing request, several ambassadors made clear they remain opposed to placing Burma on the permanent Security Council agenda. Russia, China, Japan, Algeria and several of Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors have questioned the need to declare the Burmese junta a threat to international peace and security.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Andrey Denisov, listed two reasons for his country's opposition.

"The agenda is overloaded," said Mr. Denisov. "We have to stop. That is the first, and the second, my national position is clear, same as all Asian members of the Security Council, with all the troubles we have in Myanmar, there is no immediate threat to both international and regional peace and security. We don't see it."

An Asian human rights group Thursday issued a report documenting what it described as torture in Burma. The group detailed physical, psychological and sexual abuses by the military junta, and for the first time identified military officers it says are directly responsible for rights violations.

Republican Senator John McCain said the report demonstrates that torture of political prisoners is a state policy in Burma. He called it one more reason why Security Council action against the military junta is long overdue.