U.N.-sponsored reconciliation process in jeopardy

The U.N. rapporteur on human rights in Burma has said that May 30 attacks led by supporters of the military junta which culminated in the arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be a "terminal setback" for a U.N.-brokered reconciliation plan, RFA's Burmese service reports.

In a report circulated to the U.N. General Assembly, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said that the attacks, in Depayin township in the north of the country, had "spoiled all the progress achieved in confidence-building, and ... shattered people's hope for political transition."

"Overall, the May 30-related developments have constituted a potentially terminal setback on the political front and, for that matter, for the human rights situation in the country," the report said.

Later, in an interview with RFA's Burmese service, Pinheiro said Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention could further undermine stability in the country.

"The present situation... is very dangerous, very delicate, very risky," Pinheiro said.

He said continued U.N. involvement in Burma had been called into question in the absence of further progress. "I don't expect to stay forever as the special rapporteur, repeating the same requests... I will have to seriously reconsider my collaboration with this mandate."

In his report, Pinheiro recommended that the military's State Peace and Development Council resume talks with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and other political forces in the country. He also called on the government to allow him to make an urgent visit to assess the situation.

He said the U.N.-brokered reconciliation process hinged on the availability of the opposition leader. "There are many ways to protect a political leader. I don't think this is conducive to any political dialogue to keep her in protective custody," Pinheiro told RFA. "I think that this in fact contributes to instability."

According to eyewitnesses who recorded their testimony for RFA's Burmese service, as many as 100 people are thought to have died in a series of government-led atrocities in the area, which were planned to coincide with the arrival of the NLD convoy.

While the reports could not be independently verified, they said the government planned and orchestrated the attacks--which included the mass rapes of an unknown number of local women--and buried and cremated the bodies secretly afterwards. Local military commanders supervised the terror-style operation, forcing witnesses to sign statements affirming the government's version of events.

In his report, Pinheiro said that it could be argued that the May 30 incident had "undone in one stroke all the progress that had been achieved since the process of dialogue began in 2000."

Official Burmese media said that four died in violent clashes after Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy tried to drive through a group of pro-government protesters. It says it detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for her own protection. Her location is still undisclosed, although she has been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since her detention.

Since May 30, around 100 people are missing, and many witnesses to the attacks are thought to have gone into hiding for fear of reprisals, Pinheiro's report said.

A reconciliation process begun in October 2000 by Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy to Burma, has ground to a halt amid international condemnation of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention.

Pinheiro's report recommended that the military's State Peace and Development Council resume talks with the NLD and other political forces in the country. He also called on the government to allow him to make an urgent visit to assess the situation. However, Pinheiro told RFA that in the event of a U.N. mission to Rangoon, Razali would likely visit Burma before he did.

Pinheiro said he was "gravely concerned" about Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention, and he joined Secretary-General Kofi Annan in appealing to the government to release her immediately and unconditionally.

The junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising and called elections in 1990, but it refused to hand over power when the NLD won.


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