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Burma Rejects Tutu & Havel Remarks On Regime

Burma Rejects Tutu & Havel Remarks On Regime


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Burma has condemned former Czech president Vaclav Havel and South Africa's retired archbishop Desmond Tutu for demanding UN intervention into "absurd" allegations of forced labor, torture, opium production, child soldiers and mass rape.

Burma's unelected military regime also criticized U.S.-based DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, a legal services company, for helping Havel, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tutu, publish their 70-page document titled, "Threat to the Peace: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in Burma."

"There is no basis whatsoever to its claims," the foreign ministry said in a 1,270-word statement in the government-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Friday (Sept. 3).

Burma is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest country and is also known as Myanmar.

"Myanmar has on several occasions officially denounced those allegations that it engages in rape, forced labor, child soldiers, refugees' outflow, forced relocation, etc.," the foreign ministry said.

"The truth is that the government does not condone human rights violations, and is in fact the guarantor of human rights in the country. The accusations are at times absurd."

Burma blamed an unidentified non-governmental organization (NGO) for wrongly alleging "that as many as 70,000 children have been forcibly recruited into the army."

Rather than tolerate opium and heroin production, Burma was able to "declare opium-free zones in the country," the foreign ministry said.

All of the report's allegations were "based on misinformation by a few remaining insurgents, and foreign-funded expatriates," it said -- a veiled dig at the U.S., Britain and other countries financially aiding dissidents who have fled Burma.

Havel and Tutu called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene immediately in Burma to allow a democratically elected government take power.

Their Sept. 19 report compares Burma's human rights record with seven other nations where the Security Council intervened -- including Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Haiti -- and said Burma's case was much worse.

Washington also wants the UN Security Council to pressure Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 1,000 other political prisoners struggling for democracy.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, 60, is the world's only Nobel Peace Prize laureate in detention, and has spent much of the past 16 years under house arrest.

In 1990, her National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory, scoring more than 80 percent of parliament's seats.

But the military barred them from taking power, and shredded the ballots.

Burma has never been on the Security Council's agenda. It was uncertain whether America could muster enough support to place it in the dock.

China is Burma's closest ally and was expected to block any UN intervention. Russia would probably do likewise.

Burma also enjoys lucrative commercial relations with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India and other nations, which allow the regime to survive international economic sanctions imposed by America and the European Union.

Burma, ruled by the military since 1962, is among the world's worst abusers of human rights, according to London-based Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department and other monitors.

In January, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Burma as one of the "outposts of tyranny" which must be challenged, along with Cuba, Belarus and Zimbabwe.

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Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent/


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