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Burma Defends Its Human Rights Record - 2004-09-30

Burma has defended its human rights record in the face of international pressure for the release of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Rights groups protested and concerned countries met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a Burmese official presented his country's case to the General Assembly.

Burmese minister U Tin Win told the General Assembly Wednesday his country, which he refers to as Myanmar, has consistently cooperated with the United Nations on human rights issues. A day after a U.N. report criticized Burma's military junta for jailing political dissidents, the minister said such allegations were politically motivated.

"Allegations of human rights violations in Myanmar are aimed at discrediting the government for political purposes. Myanmar believes that the question of human rights is an important issue," he said.

The minister's speech made no mention of the detained democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. But in an obvious reference to her, he said Burma's future could not be determined by one person or party.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan met during the day with representatives of a dozen countries concerned about human rights in Burma, and for Aung San Suu Kyi in particular. Afterward, Mr. Annan again called for her release.

"All of us would want to see her released. We had a very good discussion on the situation in Myanmar, and we are going to continue our cooperation," he said.

Senior U.N. Human Rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said this week he had received credible reports about the arrest and imprisonment of Burmese opposition figures. But Mr. Pinheiro has not been allowed into the country since late last year.

The secretary-general's special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail has not been permitted to visit since March of this year.

As Secretary General Annan and his envoy discussed their options with concerned nations Wednesday, Burmese democracy activist Thaung Htun complained that the world body seems powerless in the face of Burma's refusal to cooperate.

"Burma has become a challenge to the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms," he said. So far, the efforts of the special envoy of the U.N. Human Rights Rapporteur to improve the human rights situation and achieving national reconciliation don't seem to go anywhere. What is worse is that both U.N. representatives are being denied entry into the country."

The United States and the European Union maintain tough trade and other sanctions against Burma. The EU has given the Burmese government until October eighth to release Aung San Suu Kyi or face further sanctions.

Burma's military junta seized power 16 years ago after crushing the pro-democracy movement that brought Aung San Suu Kyi to prominence. She has been under house arrest three times in that period, the latest since May, 2003.