Leading article: Don't let up on the UN pressure

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The Independent Online

So far so good. At least the visit is happening and at least Mr Gambari has been allowed to raise the issues of refugees from the war against the Karen tribe, humanitarian assistance to minorities and steps towards democracy directly to the generals. But the fear must be - and it is a suspicion well founded by recent experience of such UN initiatives - that gestures such as this are sops to keep the outside world happy rather than genuine moves to respond to international calls for change.

It is the UN's duty, and the responsibility of the members of the Security Council including the UK (which has so far done precious little to help the democratic cause in Burma), to make sure that this does not happen. Nobody should pretend that this is easy. The military junta that runs Burma is a particularly hard bunch, with a distrust of the outside world and internal threats that amount to near paranoia. Along with launching an all-out attack on the Karen, it has taken the surprise decision to move its capital deep into the jungle of the central highlands. There is an opportunity of the carrot here. The country is in a parlous economic state. The junta has little popular support and is beginning to exasperate its main outside support in the Chinese government. The international community has much to offer the country in terms of economic and humanitarian assistance if it is willing to open up.

But there has to be a price for this, and part of that price must be the release of Ms Suu Kyi and other arrested leaders of the opposition and a stop to the onslaught on the tribes. And there has to be the stick of threatened international action if the Burmese government refuses. Having heard the report of his envoy, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, should urge a meeting of the Security Council to consider what should be done about this, one of the world's most repressive regimes.

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