UN seeking common ground on Suu Kyi

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council resumed a bid Wednesday to agree on a statement condemning Myanmar's decision to keep democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, with Western envoys trying to enlist Chinese backing.

The 15-member body adjourned closed-door consultations Tuesday without agreement on the US-drafted text as several countries, including veto-wielding China and Russia as well as Vietnam, insisted on getting instructions from their capitals first.

Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers, the council chair this month, met with China's deputy UN ambassador Liu Zhenmin Wednesday ahead of a meeting of the council's five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, said a diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Harriet Cross, a spokeswoman for Britain's UN mission, said the full council was expected to resume bargaining Wednesday afternoon on the non-binding text which requires unanimous approval.

The US-drafted statement "condemns the conviction and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi and expresses grave concern about the political impact this action has on the situation in Myanmar."

It calls on the Myanmar government "to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners" and underlines the need for the military regime "to establish the conditions and create an atmosphere conducive to an inclusive and credible political and electoral process with full participation by all political actors."

Tuesday, a court in Myanmar convicted Suu Kyi for breaching the terms of her detention, following a bizarre incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her home.

Judges sentenced her to three years of hard labor and imprisonment, but military ruler Than Shwe signed a special order commuting the sentence and ordering her to serve a year-and-a-half under house arrest.

But the move in effect means that the 64-year-old opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate will not be able to contest elections planned for next year.

As happened during October 2007 negotiations prior to adoption of a non-binding council statement deploring the military regime's crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, China, which maintains close ties Myanmar, and Russia insist that this is an internal matter, diplomats said.

Other council members such as Vietnam and Libya also invoke the sacrosanct principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a UN member state to resist any push by the United States, France and Britain for punitive measures against Myanmar's rulers.

Tuesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed" by the verdict and demanded Suu Kyi's unconditional release.

He called on Myanmar's ruling generals "to immediately and unconditionally release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to engage with her without delay as an essential partner in the process of national dialogue and reconciliation.

"Unless she and all other political prisoners in Myanmar are released and allowed to participate in free and fair elections, the credibility of the political process will remain in doubt," Ban added.

Suu Kyi has been kept in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, since the military regime refused to recognize her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in elections in 1990.