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House of Representatives Expected to Call for UN Action on Burma - 2004-10-07

The House of Representatives is expected to approve a resolution calling on the U.N. Security Council to take action to deal with what it calls dangers posed by Burma's military government to the people of Burma, and to Southeast Asia.

The resolution is a symbolic gesture on the part of the House of Representatives, where the level of frustration with Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, S.P.D.C., has risen significantly in recent months because of its refusal to relinquish power.

It calls on the U.N. Security Council to immediately consider, and take appropriate action, to deal with what is called the growing threat the military government of Burma poses to its own people and the Southeast Asian region as a whole.

The resolution refers to the refusal of Burma's rulers, following an election they permitted in 1990, to transfer power to civilians after the opposition National League for Democracy, N.L.D., won a majority of the parliamentary seats at stake.

It also recalls the violent assault against democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other N.L.D. members by a pro-government mob in May 2003, as well as the fact that she remains under house arrest.

The resolution refers to a range of issues it says stem from military rule in Burma, including illegal narcotics, trafficking in persons, the spread of AIDS, and refugee flows into Thailand and neighboring Bangladesh. Also mentioned are the military government's acquisition of military equipment from China, Russia and North Korea.

The resolution came up in the House the same day Burma's military government came under sharp criticism in a congressional hearing.

U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, John Hanford, told the House International Relations Committee Burma's military government continues to condone violations of religious freedom.

"[In] Burma, some religious leaders including a number of Buddhist monks are imprisoned and some Christian clergy face arrest and the destruction of their churches," he said. "The government has destroyed some mosques, and Muslims face considerable discrimination, including occasional state-orchestrated or tolerated violence."

At the same hearing, Republican Congressman Joseph Pitts, listed a range of religious and other rights violations he says are supported by the Burmese military.

"Accounts reveal that the military has attempted to force ethnic minority Christians to convert to Buddhism. Muslims in Burma also face persecution for their religious beliefs," he said. "It is critical that our government maintain strong pressure on Burma's military dictatorship, through public and private means, so the people of Burma can live in peace, and so the burgeoning drug trade is stopped."

A resolution on Burma by the House of Representatives, like many similar symbolic gestures approved from time to time by lawmakers, is obviously not binding on the United Nations.