The U.N. special envoy for human rights in Myanmar said Friday that he didn't see many signs of greater freedom in the military-ruled state, but was guardedly optimistic that its rulers remained committed to a transition to democracy. The envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said at a news conference in the Thai capital of Bangkok that the junta has made a positive step in releasing some political prisoners.
He said he was also encouraged by news he had just received that Myanmar had pulled back from a threat to withdraw from the International Labor Organization.
However, Pinheiro also urged that the junta allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, and ensure that ethnic minorities play a role in the government-planned transition to democracy, particularly in the upcoming session of the National Convention drafting guidelines for a new constitution.
He said that "competent" diplomacy must be exercised to alleviate the situation of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi _ whom he described as being "in virtual solitary confinement" _ and other political prisoners. Referring to high-profile public criticisms of the junta, he suggested that what is needed is "less noise, more competence."
"For me it is difficult to verify if a situation is becoming worse," said Pinheiro, whom the junta has not allowed to visit the country since November 2003. "I don't see a big (enough) change to say there is improvement," he said, adding that he continues to receive serious allegations of serious human rights violations.
Asked how he viewed the junta's seven-step "road map to democracy," he said: "My role is to take this seriously so that the transition will achieve democracy."
Pinheiro said that recent long prison sentences given to a human rights lawyer and political leaders of the Shan ethnic minority were "not very helpful" for a political transition.
Pinheiro was critical of the August decision of the U.N.'s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to cut all its funding to fight the diseases in Myanmar, which the agency said was done because of government travel restrictions on aid workers.
"U.N. agencies have a duty to provide humanitarian assistance," he said. "I think that humanitarian aid cannot be held hostage to political agendas." Some critics of the aid cutoff have suggested it was influenced by the hostility of Western countries, who shun the junta because if its poor human rights record and failure to hand over to a democratically elected government, reports the AP. I.L.