US wants Security Council briefing on Suu Kyi

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The United States signalled yesterday that it intends pressing for renewed debate in the United Nations Security Council on relations with Burma's brutal military junta after the surprise visit to the country by a senior UN envoy at the weekend.

Western diplomats are eager to hear directly from Ibrahim Gambari, the UN under-secretary general for political affairs, who is expected to return to New York late tomorrow.

The Nigerian envoy became the first foreigner in more than two years to be granted access to Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned heroine of Burma's democratic movement.

Burma's generals are due to review Ms Suu Kyi's detention this week as her term of house arrest will expire on Saturday. She has spent 10 of the past 17 years in detention, after winning a landslide victory in an election that the junta ignored.

John Bolton, the US's ambassador to the UN, said: "We had supported his visit to Burma on the condition that he raise Aung San Suu Kyi at each of his meetings, so we consider the fact that he had such a meeting [with her] an important step," he said yesterday. Mr Bolton expected Mr Gambari to report to the Council next week. The call by the US, with support from Britain, for a discussion of Burma in the Security Council could provoke diplomatic skirmishes. Thanks to resistance from China and Russia, the Burmese question has been kept off the Council's formal agenda.

For so senior a UN official to visit Burma and then not be allowed to report his findings to the Council seems unlikely. The Council had a first-ever discussion of Burma in December, when the US and Britain managed to get it on to the agenda under "any other business" rules. That meeting was also led by Mr Gambari.

The under-secretary general also met leading officials of the military junta, including Than Shwe, its reclusive leader at a secret jungle compound, before meeting Ms Suu Kyi.

The US, which last week renewed its own economic sanctions on Burma, may push for some form of condemnation of the junta, however, such as a non-binding statementthat would include the status of Ms Suu Kyi. There is also concern about persecution by the military of Karen tribespeople.

Any UN statement would require consensus approval, which would probably be impossible to achieve.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, was in Beijing yesterday and is scheduled to visit Burma's neighbour, Thailand, this week. Opposition activists in exile have expressed the hope that he uses his time in Bangkok to highlight the repressive rule of the Burmese junta.