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UN Envoy to Burma Pushes for Investigation into Human Rights Abuses - 2002-10-30

A United Nations envoy is urging the Burmese government to allow an independent investigation into charges of human rights abuses and the use of child soldiers in the country. U.N. special envoy just ended a 12-day visit to Burma.

U.N. envoy Paul Sergio Pinheiro told reporters Wednesday there are serious human rights violations in Burma. He says the government should do more than issue denials if it wishes to reduce its international isolation.

"I told them that allegations are not to be denied," he said. "Allegations are to be investigated, prosecuted, and the responsible to be judged and eventually condemned. Then I insisted very much on this need to have a credible, independent investigation."

The Burmese government Wednesday denied reports that its military recruits children. It has also strongly denied charges that military units have raped hundreds of ethnic Shan rebels, saying it has conducted three investigations that have found the accusations to be baseless.

Mr. Pinheiro says he recommends that the Red Cross be given permanent access to conflict zones in Burma. He says the group, which is respected for its neutrality, could report confidentially to the government on abuses and work with it to prevent them.

Mr. Pinheiro also discussed the plight of the estimated 1,200 political prisoners in the country.

"I very clearly indicated to them that it is essential, it's fundamental to have the immediate and unconditional, and the word unconditional is very important, release of all (political) prisoners," The U.N. envoy said.

Mr. Pinheiro praised the release of more than 300 political prisoners in the past two years, calling it important progress. But he notes that at the current pace it will take seven to eight years for all prisoners to be released.

During his visit, the U.N. envoy visited two prisons, and he met with senior officials, diplomats, civic leaders and opposition politicians, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He says that two years of talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy have brought some improvement in the political climate, but he says more is needed.

"I think that what we need is serious, rigorous achievement," Mr. Pinheiro said. "There was important progress, but a lot is needed to (for) the country to really enter into a process of substantive political dialogue. It's not yet there."

However, Mr. Pinheiro questioned the value of international economic sanctions against Burma. He says it would be absurd for the international community to insist on full democracy before engaging the Burmese people.