Diplomats said that any action by the Security Council had been blocked by objections from China and Russia to what they see as interference in the country's internal affairs.

China has long been unwilling to take punitive action against neighbouring Myanmar, whose coastline provides it with easy access to lucrative Asian markets.

Diplomatic divisions

The differences were also apparent after Wednesday's closed-door Security Council discussion of Myanmar.

Myanmar election laws

Myanmar's military government has announced new laws governing national election expected later this year. The following are key points of the laws announced so far:

 
Anyone convicted by courts is barred from standing as a candidate or voting.

 Parties must expel any many member convicted and serving time in jail or in detention.

 
Political parties wanting to contest poll must re-register with election commission within 60 days.

 
Anyone disrupting voting can be jailed for up to one year.

 
Results of previous 1990 election, won by the NLD, are annulled.

"A general election being held in any country is a matter of a sovereign state, so that should be respected," Li Baodong, China's ambassador, told reporters.

But Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, argued: "The instability that could be caused by a flawed electoral process is a threat to international peace and security," he said.

Earlier in the month Myanmar's military government unveiled election laws, one of which says that parties registering for the elections must exclude members serving prison terms.

That would exclude Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, who has been under house arrest for almost two decades, as well as many senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Ban also said Myanmar had been slow to implement commitments made to him by General Than Shwe, Myanmar's military leader, during the UN chief's visit last year.

He cited the lateness in publishing the electoral laws and also complained of the failure to set a date for the polls or free prisoners of conscience.

Critics in the West say the election will be a sham aimed at creating a facade of civilian rule with the ruling general possessing total control over the country's affairs.

The military has ruled the former British colony for almost five decades.