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US Supports UN Inquiry into Burma War Crimes

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is ready to support a United Nations inquiry into possible war crimes committed in Burma.

The United Nations has long noted serious concerns about the human rights situation in Burma, citing reports of the violent oppression of ethnic minorities and dissidents by the ruling military government.

Now, as first reported by The Washington Post, the U.N. has the support of the Obama administration in setting up a commission to probe these alleged violations.

Michael Haack, Campaign Coordinator for the rights group U.S. Campaign for Burma, welcomed the announcement and said the United States has a lot of influence on this issue. "The U.S. has taken the lead on many Burma initiatives before in the U.N., so there are a lot of other countries (that) kind of defer to the U.S. and wait for us to make a statement before they make their policies. So this is a huge step forward for us," he said.

A U.N. inquiry could potentially lead to the International Criminal Court initiating an investigation.

A source quoted by the Washington Post said the aim is to target the country's rulers, including Senior General Than Shwe, and not the Burmese people.

Ernie Bower, the senior advisor and director of Southeast Asian studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the move would send a strong signal to Burma's leaders. "It has to be on the minds of Than Shwe and others now, that if they're traveling in Europe or somewhere in Asia they could be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity," he said.

U.S. officials say they are also considering tightening financial sanctions against the military regime.

The administration's policy so far has been to increase engagement with Burma. A high-ranking State Department envoy has visited the country twice in the past year.

Bower says pushing for a U.N. inquiry does not necessarily sideline those efforts. "Engagement, I think it is a long-term policy it's basically another word for diplomacy and I think that the United States should and intends to stick with its engagement policy here," he said.

Burma plans to hold elections this year for the first time in 20 years. But rights groups have dismissed the poll as a sham, noting that it excludes much of the political opposition, including detained pro-Democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.