But the action, which came at Washington's request, fell short of adding the situation in the military-led Southeast Asian country to the council's formal agenda.

John Bolton, the US ambassador, said on Friday he hoped that Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, would agree to brief the 15-member Security Council on Myanmar in the next few weeks.

No date was set for the closed-door briefing, which the council agreed to unanimously, and it was unclear if Annan would accept.

"I think it is quite important that the situation in Burma will now be before the council," Bolton told reporters. US officials routinely refer to Myanmar as Burma, the country's name before the military government changed it in 1990.

Putting the matter on the council's formal agenda would have opened the way to further discussions as well as official council statements and resolutions. But it also would have required the support of nine members if a vote was demanded.

US sanctions

The United States has unilaterally imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Myanmar, including a ban on most imports, and has criticised Asia-Pacific nations for not speaking out against the country's human rights record. 

"I think it is quite important that the situation in Burma will now be before the council"

John Bolton,
US ambassador to the UN

Abdallah Baali, the Algerian ambassador who earlier questioned the US plan along with China, Russia and Japan, said the council action meant only that there would be a briefing.

"That means there is no follow-up, and we do not expect any follow-up," Baali said.

Bolton urged a long-term view, telling reporters to "keep your eyes on the prize".

The Washington-based US Campaign for Burma called the move "especially significant ... because it had been widely presumed that China and Russia would refuse to participate".

A US attempt to shine a Security Council spotlight on political repression in Myanmar was rebuffed in June when Russia, backed by China and Algeria, argued the issue was outside the council's mandate to ensure international peace and security.

Objections

Bolton raised the matter again earlier this week, only to have China say that it needed more time to study it.

Bolton had asked the council for the briefing in a letter expressing concern about "the deteriorating situation" in the country, which the military has ruled since 1962, ignoring a 1990 landslide election victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. 

Andrey Denisov, Russia's ambassador, stressed the
importance of Security Council unity and said there was
agreement on a briefing "but without inserting [Myanmar] ... to the agenda of the Security Council and without any
follow-up".

Myanmar's military has ruled the
country since 1962 

"The agenda is overloaded. We have to stop," he said, adding that "with all the troubles, with all the problems we do have in Myanmar, there is ... no immediate threat, to both international and regional peace and security. We don't see it".

Zhang Yishan, China's deputy UN ambassador, agreed, saying
"all the Asian members - the Philippines, Japan and China - believe that Myanmar doesn't pose a threat to the region or to the international security, so it should not be discussed" in the Security Council.

"It's a private briefing - so no follow-up, no resolution, nothing, just one case," he said.

Intensely worried

But Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's UN ambassador, disagreed, saying the European Union had been "intensely worried about the situation in Myanmar" for many years.

"It has the most wonderful people but they have been subject to the most awful governments," he said. "The present situation in Myanmar - the restrictions and measures taken in the last week - just accentuate the need to do something about the human rights situation, about the political developments." 
 
Suu Kyi, who has been under some sort of detention for 10 of the last 16 years, has been under house arrest since May 2003.

Officials informed her last weekend of the decision to extend her detention by six months.