Saturday, November 17, 2007

Myanmar says 14 killed in protests: UN investigator


The AFP brief of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's trip to Burma HERE. Pinheiro advocates for better medical treatment for political prisoners, prison access for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and stronger cooperation and coordination within the international arena to enact change in Burma. He will be presenting his findings to the UN Human Rights Council on December 11.

BANGKOK (AFP) — A UN rights investigator said Friday that Myanmar's military government told him 14 people had been killed in Yangon during the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in September.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who ended a five-day mission to Myanmar on Thursday, said the government recognised that 14 people had been killed in Yangon and cremated at a cemetery that he visited during his mission.

But he said he was still reviewing the evidence he gathered in Myanmar and could not yet give his own estimate on the casualties or detentions resulting from the crackdown.

"I'm not in a position to say that this is an accurate number," he told reporters in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand.

The Myanmar government claimed that no Buddhist monks were among the dead, he added.

Protests that began in August in anger at an overnight hike in fuel prices snowballed in September when Buddhist monks began leading marches that turned into the biggest anti-government demonstrations in nearly 20 years.

Until now, the government had put the number of dead at 10, although diplomats have estimated the toll could be much higher.

Pinheiro declined to give his own estimate of how many people had been detained over the protests, but urged better medical care for the inmates.

"They need better medical treatment," he said.

The United Nations also urged Myanmar to end its nearly two-year ban on prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The special rapporteur reemphasised a strong call to the authorities to re-engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross," the UN said in a statement.

Pinheiro is due to present a report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on December 11.

The United Nations said in its statement that Myanmar had given Pinheiro "a number of detailed records that respond partially to his requests" concerning the crackdown.

Pinherio also urged the international community to better coordinate their policies to prod the ruling junta toward reform.

"If you want to achieve some progress in Myanmar, we cannot have a cacophony of policies... We need to have coordination," he said.

After Pinheiro visited Yangon's notorious Insein prison on Thursday, Myanmar released 53 inmates -- but only six of them were political prisoners, all of whom had been arrested years before the protests.

Amnesty International has estimated that 700 people arrested over the protests were still in detention, although the government has said only 91 of the nearly 3,000 originally rounded up are still being held.

Pinheiro visited Insein prison twice during his visit to Myanmar this week, a trip aimed at investigating the deaths and detentions from the junta's crackdown.

On Thursday, Pinheiro said he was allowed to meet with some political prisoners, including prominent labour activist Su Su Nway.

But Pinheiro was not allowed to meet with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest in Yangon.