Thursday, October 25, 2007

Repression has not stopped a single moment in Burma

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations expert on human rights in Myanmar vowed on Wednesday he would not be constrained by the military junta when he visits the country next month to report on the recent crisis. U.N. special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said he believed detentions continued after last month's suppression of demonstrations, which were led by Buddhist monks in several major cities in the impoverished southeast Asian state.

"What annoys me is that the repression has not stopped a single moment -- this is what annoys me -- despite all the universal appeals," he told reporters at the United Nations.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, which was made public on Monday, Foreign Minister Nyan Win said Pinheiro could visit Myanmar before a summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) opening on November 17. It will be his first visit to the country in four years. "I will ask free access, the secretary general will ask free access," Pinheiro said, adding that visiting prison cells to speak to detainees was "a requirement."

"Today the ambassador (of Myanmar) assured me that they will give full cooperation," he added. "If they don't give me full cooperation, I go to the plane." Asked if he was concerned that his movements might be restricted, Pinheiro said: "Usually I go where I want." Pinheiro has said he believes the crackdown last month killed many more than the 10 deaths officially acknowledged. Pinheiro, a Geneva-based Brazilian law professor who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, has visited Myanmar six times since 2000. But he has not been allowed back since November 2003, despite repeated requests. He said he now intended to visit for around five days immediately after U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who expects to go in the first week of November on a mission to facilitate dialogue with the opposition.


Pinheiro said his mission was different and more restricted -- to investigate detentions and human rights abuses during and since the crackdown that drew international condemnation. He said Myanmar's U.N. ambassador had informed him that 2,675 of those detained during the protests had since been released. "I don't know how many people continue to be detained," he said. "I think that the situation of fear prevails, I don't think that the repression...has finished." Pinheiro said that as the protests gathered steam in Myanmar last month, there were plenty of warnings that the government would crack down harshly if the international community did not act.

"The international community was not very fast and then you had this terrible repression. But it was a foretold repression," he said. "The government waits for a few days just to observe who was being engaged and then the crackdown comes." The protests were the biggest challenge to 45 years of unbroken military rule in the former Burma since 1988, when some 3,000 protesters were believed killed by soldiers. Myanmar's ruling military junta has faced international pressure, including from its main ally China, to make concessions to democracy activists led by Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

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