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UN Human Rights Envoy to Burma Pleased with Prisoners Treatment - 2002-02-22

The U.N. human rights envoy to Burma has given an upbeat assessment of his 10 day visit. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro says the military government has improved treatment of political prisoners and it may be time for the international community to engage, rather than isolate, Burma.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N.'s human rights envoy to Burma, say he was given adequate access to meet with political prisoners, including democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking in Bangkok, Mr. Pinheiro says he believes Burma's political prisoners are receiving better treatment. He noted an absence of despair from all those he met, including those among the political opposition National League for Democracy.

Still he did urge the military government to release all detainees and to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to resume normal political activities.

The military government has freed some two-hundred political prisoners in the past year and a half but up to 1,700 remain in jail.

The releases began soon after the U.N. brokered secret talks between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi. The dialogue is aimed at ending a 12-year political stand-off over democratic reform. Mr. Pinheiro noted that those talks appear on track, despite concerns within the opposition NLD over the slow pace. Mr. Pinheiro's comments are to form the basis of his official report to the United Nations in April.

The U.N. envoy told reporters in Bangkok that he believes it may be time for the international community to begin a principled engagement with Burma's military government as a way to encourage political transition.

The United States and the European Union have said that diplomatic and economic sanctions could be lifted if there is progress towards democracy and on human rights.

Rangoon-based diplomats contacted by VOA were surprised by Mr. Pinherio's comments, especially regarding political prisoners. Human rights organizations continue to report on-going abuses within the prisoner population. Diplomats say a draft of Mr. Pinherio's April report appears to be giving too much credit to the military government and more reform will be required before the West moves to ease its present policies.