Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Myanmar's junta slams US actions

WORLD WATCHING Democracy activists have defied officials by starting a signature campaign urging the release of all political prisoners

AFP , NYAUNG HNA PIN, MYANMAR

Delegates to Myanmar's constitutional convention gather outside the meeting hall in Nyaung Hna Pin yesterday to pose for photographs. More than 1,000 delegates are attending the convention. Military leaders lashed out at the US at the meeting yesterday, blaming Washington for hauling Myanmar before the UN Security Council over rights abuses.

PHOTO: AP

Myanmar's military rulers yesterday lashed out at the US as they opened a new round of constitutional talks, blaming Washington for hauling their nation before the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The junta's No. 4 man, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, opened the talks saying the US argument for UN action on Myanmar was based "on fabrications of anti-government destructive elements."

He accused the US of manipulating other council members through political and economic pressure so that they would agree to take up the case of Myanmar, which Washington accuses of gross human rights abuses that threaten regional stability.

"The misuse of the world's esteemed UN organization ... by applying inappropriate influence upon UNSC member countries is indeed a blatant breach of the UN charter," Thein Sein said.

The talks, which the generals have held intermittently for 13 years but have never seen fit to complete, opened less than two weeks after the Security Council held discussions on Myanmar, with the US pushing for a resolution to force the generals to reform.

But instead of bowing to the pressure, the junta has cracked down on pro-democracy activists, arresting six of them in the last two weeks.

Thein Sein yesterday accused anti-government groups of having "the evil intention of grabbing power through the downfall of the ruling government" by attempting "to incite mass protests."

Unlike past crackdowns, the latest arrests have sparked a rare show of public discontent as activists launched a petition campaign to urge the release of all political prisoners, including detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Organizers say 120,000 people have already signed the petition, which they plan to continue pushing for another two weeks. The signature campaign is believed to be largest show of protest in a decade, since the government crushed small student protests in 1996.

Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said the petition has taken off in part because the activists felt the UN was watching them.

"They see they are not alone, and the world's highest body is watching, the UN Security Council is watching," he said.

But some fear North Korea's nuclear test on Monday may have cut the junta a break by abruptly shifting the UN's attention away from Myanmar.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari is due to visit Myanmar next month, his second trip this year, to again press for democratic reforms and for Suu Kyi's freedom.

Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Win Min worried that if North Korea's nuclear program still dominates the world's attention when Gambari returns, then Myanmar's troubles could be overshadowed.

"We have to worry that it won't be resolved soon and that the UN will be busy," Win Min said.

So far, the junta has shown no signs of changing course because of the UN pressure. They say the National Convention is the first of seven steps on a "road map" to democracy, and that during the next three months, the 1,075 handpicked delegates will hold closed-door talks on key issues such as the role of political parties and eventual polls.

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