WASHINGTON (AP) -- Human Rights Watch criticized the United Nations Thursday for raising the possibility of Myanmar contributing troops to the U.N.'s peacekeeping force, describing the nation's military as among the most abusive in the world.
The New York-based group voiced its concerns in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It said that despite the democratic opening in the country also known as Burma, its military remains unreformed and continues to use child soldiers.
Vijay Nambiar, Ban's special adviser on Myanmar, raised the issue when he met Myanmar commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in late January in the nation's capital Naypyitaw.
"The Burmese military's poor record on rights and civilian protection is profoundly at odds with the standards that U.N. peacekeepers are expected to defend around the world," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Any move by the U.N. to recruit Burmese forces risks grave damage to the UN's reputation."
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday that Nambiar's talks with the Myanmar military chief were part of broader discussions about Myanmar's reintegration into the international community.
He said that, like any U.N. member state, Myanmar was invited to discuss its interest with the U.N. peacekeeping department, which would consider the request. U.N. forces are accountable to the highest standards in training and conduct, and thorough assessments are carried out prior to the acceptance of any uniformed personnel, he said.
Myanmar's diplomatic mission at the U.N. did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was interested in contributing peacekeepers -- a potential source of revenue and international prestige.
A U.N report last May cited Myanmar on its list of countries that recruit children to its government forces, although it said Myanmar had made progress. Human Rights Watch said Thursday that while the government has signed an action plan with the U.N. and committed to releasing all child soldiers by the end of 2013, few have been released.
Nick Birnback, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, said that when considering whether to deploy peacekeepers from a member state, the U.N. carefully reviews that nation's record on recruiting child soldiers and whether it is taking serious measures to stop it, although there is no formal policy in the U.N. on barring a nation that it has cited over the issue.
Several Western nations, including the U.S., have begun engaging Myanmar's military after years of isolation while still blocking arms exports and voicing concerns over its lingering ties with North Korea. Those nations want to encourage Myanmar's military to embrace reform and submit to civilian control.
But in the letter to Ban, Human Rights Watch also cautioned against inviting Myanmar military officials to attend U.N. training or orientation sessions, saying it would signal the U.N. is ready to welcome Myanmar forces under the flag of the world body.
In January, a rights group accused Myanmar's military of continuing to use rape as weapon of war, despite the democratic reforms that began three years ago. The report from the Women's League of Burma documented more than 100 rapes, almost all in townships plagued by stubborn ethnic insurgencies.
In February, the U.N. rights rapporteur for Myanmar, Tomas Quintana, said he raised with Myanmar authorities allegations of rape, arbitrary detention and torture following military clashes in Kachin State and northern Shan State.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Peter Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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