UNITED NATIONS (ST)- THE United Nations Security Council was split over how to push Myanmar to improve human rights and adopt democratic reforms as a UN special envoy prepared for a key visit to the Asian nation.
After focusing on aid efforts in Myanmar since a May 2 cyclone left 138,000 dead or missing, the 15-member Security Council turned its attention back to pressuring the country's secretive military government on political reforms.
The United States said on Thursday it wanted 'concrete results' from next month's visit to Myanmar by Ibrahim Gambari, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's special envoy, and that 'tougher measures' may be needed if that was not achieved.
'My message to the regime is to take advantage of Mr Gambari's visit, turn a new page ... or face more pressure - the choice is theirs in this regard,' US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.
He said for Professor Gambari's visit to be a success, Myanmar had to cooperate on a political roadmap, agree to time-bound talks on political transition ahead of 2010 elections, and release political prisoners including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers said the Security Council needed to remain focused on the political problems of Myanmar, but acknowledged that reaching an agreement among members on how much pressure to apply would be difficult.
'We're in a very difficult position in the sense that the Burmese government have not responded to the demands of the international community,' he told reporters. 'Things have gone backwards in Burma over the last six months or so.'
But China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said there was no need for council action and urged patience on Myanmar, while Vietnam's UN Ambassador Le Luong Minh said the country's problems were comprehensive so 'any solution should be comprehensive'.
Mr Ban met on Wednesday with the so-called friends of Myanmar group - India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and others - to discuss Prof Gambari's visit.
He said in a statement that the group made it clear Prof Gambari's visit 'would need to yield tangible progress on the issues of concern to the international community'. Prof Gambari has said his most recent visit to Myanmar was a disappointment and yielded no concrete results. One of the problems was that he was unable to meet senior junta leaders.
It was his third visit since authorities crushed pro-democracy marches in September in a crackdown that sparked worldwide outrage and a major diplomatic push for political reform in the former British colony, which has been under military rule since 1962.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also urged the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations on Wednesday to put more pressure on Myanmar. Asean's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. -- REUTERS