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China, Russia veto U.S. move on Myanmar

China and Russia on Friday vetoed a U.S. resolution calling on Myanmar's military junta to stop persecution of minority and opposition groups, killing the measure in the U.N. Security Council.
/ Source: Reuters

China and Russia on Friday vetoed a U.S. resolution calling on Myanmar's military junta to stop persecution of minority and opposition groups, killing the measure in the U.N. Security Council.

The vote was 9-3 in favor of the resolution, with three abstentions. But two of the negative votes came from permanent members with veto rights.

Both Russia and China, which had not cast a double veto since 1972, made the point the United States needed to listen to their complaints carefully. They argued that human rights violations were not the purview of the Security Council unless they endangered regional or international peace and security, which Myanmar did not.

"I hope some of our partners also learned some lessons in the course of this entire process," Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said. China's envoy, Wang Guangya, told reporters the United States acted like it was the only permanent council member.

South Africa also voted "no," while Qatar, Indonesia and Congo Republic abstained. Voting with Washington were Britain, which co-sponsored the draft, France, Belgium, Italy, Ghana, Peru, Panama and Slovakia.

To supporters of the failed resolution, pressure from the United Nations and elsewhere has had little effect on the junta, which cooperated a bit more with the world body only after the Security Council put Myanmar on its agenda.

The measure urged Myanmar, formerly Burma, to release all political prisoners, move toward democracy and stop attacks against minorities, many of whom are used for forced labor.

"The people of Burma should not feel disheartened by this. This was an effort to bring the situation to the attention of the world community and to send a clear signal that we have not forgotten you. And we won't forget you," Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told the council.

He argued that refugees were pouring over the border, the trafficking of people had increased and AIDS was spreading.

Myanmar's U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, said cooperating with the United Nations was the cornerstone of Myanmar's foreign policy.

Ibrahim Gambari, head of U.N. political affairs, visited Myanmar twice last year and met with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest or in prison since her National League for Democracy won elections in 1990.

"There are many issues that deserve -- in fact, demand -- the immediate and undivided attention of the Security Council," he said. "Myanmar by no stretch of the imagination is among them."

'Matter of principle'
The military has run Myanmar in various forms since 1962 and no one has denied its abusive policies, which have been condemned by the 192-member General Assembly. At issue was whether the Security Council had the mandate to deal with the issue rather than the assembly and other U.N. bodies, whose resolutions carry less weight.

"Myanmar must respond to the imperative of restoring democracy and respect for human rights -- that is a matter of principle," Indonesian Ambassador Rezlan Ishar Jenie said. "But it is a matter of principle ... whether this council is the appropriate body to address the problem of Myanmar."

Beijing has only used its veto four times in the past, the last time in February 1999 on extending a peacekeeping force in Macedonia because of the Balkan's nation's ties with Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty. Russia last used its veto in April 2004 on a Cyprus resolution for technical reasons.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, who co-sponsored the resolution, told reporters he could look himself in the mirror for pushing the measure.

"I want tomorrow morning to be able to reassure myself that we did the right thing, the right thing by the people of Myanmar," he said. "They have had 50 years of the most abject misery."