March 26, 2010 / 2:45 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. rights forum condemns Myanmar, extends probe

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned Friday widespread violations in Myanmar and called on its generals to release 2,100 political prisoners ahead of an election this year, saying the vote must be free and fair.

It adopted by consensus a resolution, presented by the European Union, which also extended by one year the mandate of the Council’s special investigator on the former Burma.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called in a report this month for an international inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the ruling junta.

The Council condemned “systematic violations,” including disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and recruitment of child soldiers.

It urged Myanmar’s government to “ensure a free, transparent, fair electoral process which allows for the participation of all voters, all political parties.”

This included the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the 1990 poll in a landslide, a result the regime ignored and recently annulled.

The Council voiced concern at the “continued arbitrary house arrest” of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the NLD party, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. She was sentenced to a further 18 months of house arrest last August.

Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Wunna Maung Lwin, rejected the EU resolution as being “politically motivated” and infringing on his country’s internal affairs.

Resource-rich Myanmar, crippled by sanctions, has promised to hand over power to an elected civilian government, although few people believe the military will really transfer power.

Spain’s ambassador Javier Garrigues, presenting the EU resolution, told the Council: “We reaffirm the essential importance of inclusive political dialogue with a view to national reconciliation and of the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed frustration on Thursday at slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, where planned elections have been derided in the West as a sham.

Ban spoke after discussing Myanmar with a group of countries, but diplomats said any Security Council action was blocked by objections from China and Russia to what they see as interference in the Asian country’s internal affairs.

In Geneva, Chinese diplomat Ke Yousheng told the Council his country regretted that the EU resolution was “sharp in words” and failed to reflect efforts by Myanmar’s rulers.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn

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