September 27, 2008 / 9:09 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. group aims to keep world focus on Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. group on Myanmar vowed on Saturday to keep the world spotlight on the troubled country and to press the military rulers of the former Burma to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The “Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar” said Myanmar’s junta must comply with resolutions calling for the release of political prisoners and to pursue reconciliation to end a nearly 20-year political stalemate.

The group urged Myanmar to address key issues, “especially the release of political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and the initiation of an all-inclusive dialogue between the government and the opposition,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said in a statement.

The 14-nation group, joined by top representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union, met a day after the first anniversary of a crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks against the military that has ruled the country since 1962.

At least 31 people were killed and some 3,000 were arrested in the crackdown. Human rights groups say as many as 700 people remain behind bars, although the junta says all but a few dozen have been released.

“The people of Burma have not been forgotten by the international community,” British Foreign Minister David Miliband told reporters after the meeting.

“It’s vital that, first, we don’t fall for the electoral and constitutional facade that has been erected over the last year, and, secondly, the U.N. remains determined in its support for the U.N. Security Resolutions that have been passed,” he said.

His criticism was aimed at a May referendum on Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution — part of a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” that is meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010 but has been rejected by Western countries and Myanmar’s democracy movement as a sham.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told reporters the electoral plan had “no international legitimacy.”

He also underscored differences between Myanmar’s neighbors, who engage and trade with the junta, and Western powers that have tried to isolate and pressure the generals with trade embargoes.

“There’s ... a view among a number of us that the economic agenda should not be neglected,” Yeo said of economic engagement favored by Singapore and other ASEAN members.

“This is something about which there is no agreement among some countries, obviously, because there’s still an embargo going on,” he added.

The friends group was launched December 2007 and consists of Australia, Britain, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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