US backs UN inquiry in Burma

United States president Barack Obama’s administration has decided to support the creation of a UN inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed by Burmese government, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Citing US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the newspaper said the White House would throw its weight behind the creation of a United Nations commission of inquiry, and was also considering tighter sanctions.

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has called for the inquiry, which would examine allegations that the Burmese junta, led by general Than Shwe, has waged bloody crackdowns against ethnic rebels and political dissidents. Quintana visited the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot earlier this month and met with Burmese activists in what was said to be a fact-finding mission regarding human rights violations.

“What’s important here is that this is not aimed at the people of Burma but at its leadership, particularly at Than Shwe,” an unnamed senior US administration official told the Post.

The Obama administration came into office hoping to engage Burma, sending high-ranking envoys to the nation for talks. But the country’s regime failed to respond and is imposing strict limits on campaigning ahead of upcoming elections.

“There have been no positive results on democracy and human rights in our diplomatic engagement,” a second administration official told the Post. Human rights groups said the administration’s decision to support a UN investigation was “an extremely smart move.”

“So long as Burma’s military elite believe that their leader’s strategy of defying his people and the world is working for them personally, they will continue to resist political compromise at home and engagement with the US,” Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said.

The commission of inquiry could be formed directly by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, or by the Security Council, though China would likely veto any investigation.

Malinowski told the newspaper that the US support for an inquiry was not likely to affect Than Shwe, but could influence younger members of the junta.

“There’s a whole generation of military elites in Burma who will be making choices in the next few years,” he said. “This is aimed at them.”

Western countries have largely expressed discontent regarding the conditions under which the junta will conduct elections on November 7 this year.

Canada’s foreign minister Lawrence Cannon also raised concerns over the issue on Monday.

“While Canada welcomes the Burmese military regime’s commitment to hold democratic elections, we have serious concerns that the elections will be held under oppressive conditions and that they will not be conducted in line with international standards,” Cannon said in a statement.

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