The Obama administration decided on Tuesday to support the creation of a United Nations commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma, a sign of a tougher US policy against a regime long accused of murdering and raping its political foes.
US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said the administration is considering tightening financial sanctions against the regime as part of an effort to force it to open its authoritarian political system and free thousands of political prisoners.
By supporting the commission of inquiry, the Obama administration is committing itself to backing a UN investigation of the military junta led since 1992 by Senior Gen. Than Shwe.
The 77-year-old dictator has been accused of leading brutal campaigns against ethnic insurgencies and Burmese dissidents, such as the 2007 crackdown during which scores of protesters, including Buddhist monks, were killed and thousands jailed. Than Shwe's State Peace and Development Council also overturned election results in 1990 that favoured the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi, who was named a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains under house arrest.
"What's important here is that this is not aimed at the people of Burma but at its leadership, particularly at Than Shwe," said a senior administration official.
Human rights organisations welcomed the news.
The Obama administration entered office with a desire to shift course on Burma The administration decided last fall to begin to engage with the Burmese regime.
But Burma has rebuffed the outreach and announced a series of severe restrictions on campaigning ahead of coming elections, prompting the regime's opposition to all but withdraw.
But the debate still rages on whether the prospect of a war crimes charge can change the behaviour of a regime.
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