Myanmar faces flak over rights record

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Myanmar came under pressure in the UN human rights council on Thursday to speed up genuine democratic reform, as western nations blasted "alarming" abuse and some Asian neighbours sought more change.

"The human rights situation in Myanmar is alarming," Sweden said in a statement to the 47 nation assembly as the council held its first regular review of Myanmar's human rights record.

Western countries including Britain, France and the United States called on the military regime to immediately free more than 2,000 political prisoners, end impunity for abuse, and halt forced labour, arbitrary arrests and torture of critics.

US ambassador Eileen Donahoe warned of "ongoing, systematic violations of human rights" and expressed concern about reports of "hundreds of cases of torture of political prisoners."

"We remain deeply concerned about the very poor state of human rights," she added, warning that the elections last November were neither free nor fair," and "cannot be considered credible."

Asian countries broadly welcomed steps towards democracy with the release of jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and steered clear of overt criticism of the administration.

But many neighbouring countries and key members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including India, Indonesia and Thailand signalled that they also wanted more progress on democratisation and avoided acknowledging the elections.

"Myanmar stands at an important crossroads in its transition to democracy," India said in a statement.

It underlined the need for "more inclusive, broad based and expeditious" reforms and greater efforts "to address the major human rights concerns.

Thailand sought improvements in the country's laws to "promote greater accountability" as well as more efforts to engage ethnic groups and deal with human rights.

"We urge the authorities in Myanmar to work to consolidate the gains achievd and ensure further positive developments," said Thai envoy Kanita Sapphaisal.

However, neighbouring China voiced support for Myanmar and warned that "pressure and sanctions of a political nature will not produce solutions."

© 2011 AFP

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