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Senior UN Official Calls Burma Situation 'Serious'

A top U.N. diplomat has described conditions in Burma as "serious," and called on the country's military leaders to restore freedom and democracy.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari briefed a closed-door Security Council session on Burma Friday. Gambari visited the Burmese capital Rangoon last May, giving rise briefly to hopes that detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi might be released.

He said Council members had responded positively to news that he has been invited back for another visit to the reclusive country, which is known at the U.N. as Myanmar, probably in early November. "I tried to put the situation in Myanmar into some historical perspective. And also in the context of my last visit," he said.

Gambari said he would use the November visit to urge the Burmese military junta to honor its pledge to restore democracy.

The United States requested Friday's briefing earlier this month after winning a long battle to have Burma included in the permanent Security Council agenda.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested the briefing would likely lead to a resolution citing Burma as a threat to regional peace. But he agreed to withhold the measure pending the outcome of Undersecretary General Gambari's November visit. "We didn't put this issue on the agenda simply to have briefings, and absent substantial changes in policy by the government in Burma in connection with drug trafficking, with refugee flows, political repression, HIV AIDS and the like, all the reasons that we felt that Burma's policies and conduct amounted to a threat to international peace and security, we will be prepared at an appropriate time to move to a resolution," he said.

China's U.N. ambassador Wang Guangya earlier said it was preposterous to place Burma on the Council's peace and security agenda, and he did not attend the briefing. A junior diplomat sat in the Chinese seat at the Council table.

But Britain's U.N. envoy Emyr Jones Parry, described the private meeting as conciliatory. He said its main aim was to support efforts by Gambari and Secretary-General Kofi Annan to coax Burma's military rulers out of their political isolation. "I hope Undersecretary Gambari would find his task easier. The shared interest we have is to have a free, prosperous and peaceful Myanmar, nothing less than that, nothing more, and the objectives are shared not only be the Council, but by most members of the United Nations," he said.

Burma's U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe also addressed Friday's briefing. He rejected the characterization of his country as a threat to regional security. Afterward, he told two reporters there are no grounds to put his country on the Council agenda. "Myanmar is not a threat to international peace and security, as attested to by all of Myanmar's neighbors, so if we're a threat, our neighbors would be the first to speak out," he said.

International human rights groups have repeatedly called on the Security Council to act in response to Burma's human rights record.

First lady Laura Bush this month hosted a U.N. roundtable to highlight the country's growing humanitarian crisis.

The United States has also been in the forefront of efforts to win Aung San Suu Kyi's release. The Nobel laureate had been under house arrest for nearly 11 of the past 17 years.