- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NEW YORK — First lady Laura Bush yesterday promised Burmese exiles and specialists that the Bush administration would seek a strong U.N. Security Council resolution condemning human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian country.

In a rare foray into foreign affairs, Mrs. Bush hosted a round-table discussion for human rights activists from the region, all of whom urged swift and sustained pressure on the military government.

During her New York visit she also rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, watched her husband address the U.N. General Assembly, hosted a conference on global literacy and last night planned to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative.

“I can tell you that the United States will work very hard with other members of the Security Council to get a good resolution about Burma,” she said. “And I think you’re right, the sooner the better it would be. I think that is part of the pressure.”

On Friday, John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador at the U.N., won a 10-4 Security Council vote to hold a public meeting on Burma, which is now generally known as Myanmar. The administration has been trying for some time to get Burma on the agenda, despite stiff resistance from China and Russia.

That meeting has not yet been set, although Mr. Bolton said Monday he hoped it would be before the end of September.

“Putting Myanmar on the [U.N.] agenda means allowing the [U.N. Security] Council just to discuss the matter, and it is not meant for allowing it to take action against the country,” said a defensive, 4,400-word “Stance of Government” statement, published in Burma’s official New Light of Myanmar newspaper yesterday.

Referring to China and Russia, it said “Myanmar’s friendly nations among the permanent members” will “oppose the efforts” of the United States to call for a resolution vote.

Mrs. Bush spoke of her admiration for Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for much of the last decade.

“Her story of her life is a story that I think women around the world are interested in,” Mrs. Bush said. “But her example of her life actually calls attention to the situation in her country.”

Mrs. Bush, speaking shortly after her husband addressed the U.N. General Assembly, listened to brief presentations on Rangoon’s military occupation of ethnic lands, rape and sexual abuse of women, harassment of Christian pastors and indifference to increase drug-resistant infectious diseases.

Dr. Chris Beyrer, a Johns Hopkins researcher who has been studying Burmese health issues since 1993, said underfunded health care has created rampant strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria, and rampant HIV infection.

At least 3 million Burmese have been displaced by soldiers acting on government orders, according to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, including an estimated 1 million who have fled over the border into Thailand.

And Hseng Noung, who founded the Shan Women’s Action Network spoke of soldiers raping minority women and girls as young as eight.

“It is important to re-engage Burma-Myanmar,” said U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, one of the few at the table who referred to the country by its current name. He plans to return to the country soon.

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