September 26th, 2007 08:08 EST
Emergency Meeting Scheduled on Crisis in Myanmar
The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting today on the situation in Myanmar after the nation`s military junta imposed a curfew in the former capital, Yangon, and police used force on protesters.
France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, sought the meeting along with the U.S., Britain, Belgium, Italy and Slovakia, the UN press office announced.
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier today called for Security Council action, saying the junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, faces international scrutiny. Agreement on a statement would have to overcome resistance from China and Russia, which vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution in June that would have pressed the Burmese government to free political prisoners and move toward democracy.
"The whole world is now watching Burma, and its illegitimate and oppressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account,`` Brown told reporters in Bournemouth, England, where the ruling Labour Party is holding its annual conference. ``The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over.``
The military was using batons and tear gas, Charles Petrie, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said in a telephone interview from the city. Officials warned civilians over megaphones not to take part in protests, U.K. Ambassador Mark Canning said by phone. Tens of thousands of people regrouped in a protest in downtown Yangon, Agence France-Presse said, citing witnesses.
About 1,000 monks surrounded by as many as 9,000 demonstrators ``behaving impeccably`` defied the government`s ban on public gatherings, Canning said later in a Sky News interview. At least three monks were killed when security forces fired warning shots and tear gas at protesters, AFP reported, citing Myanmar officials.
The demonstrations are the biggest show of defiance against the junta since a pro-democracy uprising 19 years ago. That revolt was crushed when the army killed 1,000 protesters on Aug. 8, 1988, and an estimated 3,000 others in the weeks that followed, the U.S. State Department said in a briefing note.
The military government, which has led Myanmar since 1962, has driven 200,000 people to neighboring countries and is hindering international aid workers trying to help 300,000 people with HIV-AIDS, according to the U.S.
President George W. Bush yesterday announced new U.S. sanctions on Myanmar and called on the UN to pressure the regime to end its ``reign of fear`` in the country.
``The ruling junta remains unyielding yet the people`s desire for freedom is unmistakable,`` Bush told the General Assembly in New York. Member states must use their ``diplomatic and economic leverage`` on the regime, he added.
The U.S. will tighten economic sanctions on junta leaders ``and their financial backers`` and expand a visa ban ``on those most responsible for the egregious violations of human rights,`` Bush said. The U.S. already bans all imports from Myanmar, restricts financial transactions and prohibits new investment in the country.
In Brussels, the European Union said today it would ``reinforce and strengthen`` sanctions on Myanmar in case the authorities ``resort to using violence against the unarmed and peaceful demonstrators.`` Current EU measures include an arms embargo, an asset freeze and a visa ban on junta officials.
France`s European Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet said ``France will participate in all efforts to pressure the Burmese authorities,`` after a cabinet meeting today in Paris. He said he was discussing sanctions with his European counterparts. Earlier, Jouyet said the repression in Myanmar was ``unacceptable.``
Myanmar, bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Laos, is a nation of 47 million people that is slightly smaller than Texas. It gained independence from the U.K. in 1948 and experienced persistent division and conflict between political and ethnic groups until the military seized power and abolished the constitution.
The junta rejected the results of parliamentary elections in May 1990, won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy, and suspended parliament.
Suu Kyi, 62, has spent almost 12 years in detention since the election, and was last placed under house arrest at her home in Yangon in 2003.
International sanctions have stifled economic growth in the nation, which had proven gas reserves of 17.7 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2005, or 0.3 percent the world`s total, according to BP Plc, and resources including teak, zinc, copper and precious stones.
Protests intensified last month after the regime doubled the cost of some fuels, making public transport unaffordable for many residents, Human Rights Watch said.
By Bill Varner
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