Myanmar agrees to host U.N. human rights investigator

.UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Myanmar’s government has agreed to a visit by the U.N.’s human rights investigator, who has been barred from entering the military-ruled country since 2003, the United Nations said Monday.

Myanmar has been strongly criticized for sending troops to quash peaceful protests by students and monks last month. The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned the crackdown at an emergency session Oct. 2 and urged an immediate investigation of the rights situation in the country.

Romanian Ambassador Doru-Romulus Costea, who chairs the 47-nation rights council, appealed to the Myanmar government to allow an urgent visit by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who was appointed as the U.N’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar seven years ago.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win suggested that Pinheiro’s visit take place before the Nov. 17 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

The Human Rights Council has been criticized by the United States for failing to act on urgent human rights issues around the world and spending too much time criticizing Israeli actions against the Palestinians. The body, which replaced the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, lacks enforcement powers and is limited to focusing global attention on human rights offenders.

The protests in Myanmar began Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices in one of Asia’s poorest countries. They were based in a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military rule that has gripped the country, previously known as Burma, since 1962. The protests were faltering when Buddhist monks took the lead late last month.

Soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators and the military junta said 10 people were killed, although diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher. Thousands were arrested, and the hunt for participants is reportedly continuing.

U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who was sent to Myanmar by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the crackdown, is unlikely to return to the country before mid-November as the Security Council wanted because the government hasn’t given him a visa for an earlier visit.

Myanmar’s junta took power in 1988 after crushing the democracy movement led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent much of the past 18 years under house arrest. In 1990, the junta refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide election victory.