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Tutu, Havel Ask U.N. Intervention in Myanmar

Human rights activists seek a nonmilitary response to restore democracy and deliver aid to nation called a 'threat to the peace.'

October 21, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

"I can't get Myanmar on the agenda at the Security Council," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said in an interview. "I've tried for the last six months. Some members say it is a matter of internal security and domestic affairs, and unless the government of Burma is prepared to go along with it, then you wouldn't make progress."

For years, there have been two competing but ineffective, approaches to Myanmar. The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions, contributing to the country's financial decline but failing to topple the regime. Neighbors such as China, India and Thailand have advocated engagement with the regime while developing economic ties, but this strategy has produced no significant concessions.

The U.N. has had no success in promoting political change or winning the release of Suu Kyi through negotiations. The world body's special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, has not even been allowed to enter the country since March 2004.

In the face of global criticism, Myanmar has pursued a strategy of promising change while delivering little. It has claimed for years that it is working toward democracy, but no elections have been held since 1990, and military officers hold virtually every top position in government. The drafting of a new constitution has been in progress for more than 12 years.

Tutu said the situation in Myanmar was similar to that of South Africa under apartheid two decades ago: a small ruling minority, facing economic sanctions, imposing its will on the majority while the nation's most popular leader (Nelson Mandela in South Africa) languishes in detention.

But of the two ex-British colonies, Tutu said, the situation in Myanmar is "a great deal worse."

"They are using rape as a weapon of war and deliberately infecting people with HIV, which fortunately we didn't have at the time" in South Africa, he said. "They are using child soldiers and participating in the drug trade."

On his wall, Tutu said, he has two photos of Suu Kyi, whom he has never met but admires greatly.

"These men who are armed to the teeth are dead scared of her because she has this incredible thing: She has integrity," he said. "The people, who are the ultimate arbiter, look upon her as their leader. I look forward to attending her inauguration as president of Burma one day."

Times staff writer Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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