UN still lacks agreement on Myanmar

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United Nations, Oct 11: UN Security Council ambassadors failed to agree on a statement deploring Myanmar's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, and sent it to capitals for a decision on one key phrase.

Though much watered down from a Western-drafted original, the statement calling for dialogue between the country's military rulers and the opposition would still mark the first action on Myanmar by the council, which includes China.

China, backed by Russia, fears too strong a statement would push the Myanmar junta further into isolation after worldwide condemnation of its suppression and jailing of pro-democracy demonstrators, including Buddhist monks.

It also fears the council would be delving into a country's internal affairs instead of concentrating on its primary task of preserving international peace and security.

The latest, and third, version of the statement first circulated on Friday by the United States, Britain and France said the council ''strongly deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar.'' But after nearly five hours of discussion the 15 council envoys yesterday could not agree on how to word a sentence about the release of political prisoners and included two versions in square brackets, according to a text obtained by Reuters.

The first said the council ''takes note of the steps taken by the Myanmar government and calls on the government to release all political prisoners and remaining detainees.'' The second said it ''emphasizes the importance of the early release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees.'' Diplomats would not immediately say which countries had favored which version, but noted that the first was stronger.

Unlike Security Council resolutions, so-called presidential statements require agreement by all members. Western diplomats said they hoped the statement could be issued today if home governments could resolve the disputed phrase.

Red Lines

''I think the time was well spent,'' said US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. ''Our principal concerns with regard to this situation ... are reflected in the final draft. But we have also had to take into account the concerns of others.'' Earlier, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters that while the Western nations were willing to compromise, they had ''red lines'' they would not cross.

''Two countries are isolated in the council,'' Ripert said, without naming them. ''We are ready to make the move but not up to the point that the declaration would be so weakened it would send the wrong signal to the government of Myanmar.'' The new draft followed earlier ones in calling for restrictions to be lifted on Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, and for a dialogue with all parties and ethnic groups to achieve national reconciliation.

The junta has made a conditional offer to talk to Suu Kyi.

But the text dropped direct calls for a transition to democracy in Myanmar, merely welcoming the fact that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to which Myanmar belongs, had urged that.

Ambassador Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, an ASEAN member currently on the Security Council, told reporters: ''What we have said constantly is that the situation in Myanmar has affected ASEAN as an organization in terms of its reputation and credibility.''

The statement dwelt on the role of UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who returned from Myanmar last week after a four-day visit, and urged the junta to cooperate with him in future to enable ''concrete actions and tangible results.''

Diplomats said Gambari, who is trying to get detainees freed and a political dialogue started, aimed to be back in Myanmar by the end of October after first visiting neighboring countries.


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