A United Nations representative has began a 10-day visit to Burma, looking into allegations that the military government is forcibly drafting young boys into the army and using rape as a weapon of war. Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, a special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, met with military leaders and U.N. agencies in Rangoon Friday as he kicked off his fourth visit to Burma. The U.S. State Department and advocates for Burma's Shan ethnic minority released a report in July, claiming the Burmese army systematically rapes Shan women as part of its military campaign against the Shan independence movement. Rangoon has repeatedly denied the charge and says it invited Mr. Pinheiro in an effort to refute the allegation.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch issued a lengthy report charging that Burma has forcibly recruited around 70,000 child soldiers - some as young as 11 years old - and has forced the boys to commit human rights violations. Mr. Pinheiro is scheduled to talk to the foreign affairs and home ministers later on Friday. On Saturday, he will meet the opposition Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and other ethnic minority groups. He said he would then travel to Burma's Shan State for three days next week, to investigate the allegation that the military systematically raped over 600 Shan women between 1996 and 2001.
The U.N. envoy said he will also meet with the democracy leader and Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, before he leaves the country on October 28. No date has been set for that meeting. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won the 1990 elections by a landslide, but the military government placed her under house arrest on and off for years and refused to allow her and her party to take power. Although she was released from 19 months of house arrest in May, talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government have stalled, and Mr. Pinheiro said he hopes his visit will help get the talks back on track.