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Myanmar junta casts shadow over Ban's Asia tour

UN chief Ban Ki-moon starts a key Asia tour on Tuesday which risks becoming sucked into international divisions over calls for an international commission into possible crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

world Updated: Oct 24, 2010 14:08 IST

UN chief Ban Ki-moon starts a key Asia tour on Tuesday which risks becoming sucked into international divisions over calls for an international commission into possible crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

Ban goes to Thailand, which opposes any inquiry into its neighbour, attends a Hanoi summit with Southeast Asian leaders, who he has said should be tougher with Myanmar's junta, and then heads for China, a key ally of the ruling generals.

The tour, which will also take him to Cambodia, comes less than two weeks from Myanmar's first election in two decades which Western governments have condemned as a sham.

The United States and European countries are the main backers of an inquiry, first proposed by Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who made the latest UN call last week for the release of opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi for the November 7 vote.

Ban arrives on Tuesday in Bangkok where he will hold talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Thailand, China and India all spoke out against a commission of inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes of humanity at a UN General Assembly meeting last week, diplomats said.

Quintana's latest report to the UN highlighted more torture deaths in Myanmar prisons, indiscriminate army killings in areas under rebel control and forced labour. He called the election process "deeply flawed".

"It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that the government meets its obligations" on rights, Quintana said. "If the government fails to assume its responsbility then the international community must take action."

He highlighted however that any commission of inquiry "should not be considered as a means to punish the Myanmar government but it should be seen as a possible tool to help Myanmar address impunity."

But most of Myanmar's neighbours see any inquiry as "destabilizing," according to David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Myanmar. China called the proposal "dangerous" and "destructive", he said.

After moving on late Tuesday to Cambodia, where he will go to the UN tribunal handling the genocide cases of Khmer Rouge leaders, Ban goes on to Hanoi on Wednesday to attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit with the UN.

The UN chief has expressed his growing "frustration" with the Myanmar junta in recent weeks and called on ASEAN to be more aggressive with Myanmar or risk tarnishing their own democratic credentials.

"The neighbours may be embarrassed but they are not going to change," said one Asian diplomat at the UN, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ban ends the tour in China, which promises to be the most difficult leg. He will be under pressure to speak about Myanmar, human rights in his host country and North Korea's nuclear programme.

He will go to Shanghai to tour to see the end of the World Expo with President Hu Jintao and then visit Nanjing and Beijing for the formal talks on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

China wants to protect strategic and economic interests in Myanmar, such as two major energy pipelines, said Mathieson of Human Rights Watch, whose foresees little change in Myanmar.

The Chinese view is that "the military is the best bet to keep the country together". China and other countries in southeast Asia "are probably just looking forward to the process being over so that they can move on."

Inaction, he warned, "will probably give the junta more confidence to repress the population if they see fit."