|Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 15 years under house arrest [AFP]
The United States has backed calls for an international probe into rights abuses in Myanmar, which could lead to international warrants for the country's military leaders.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, offered the most explicit US backing yet for a probe, in a speech delivered in Hawaii on Thursday at the start of her two-week trip across Asia.
Activists have long sought an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the country formerly known as Burma, with which the US initiated dialogue last year.
"I would like to underscore the United States' commitment to seek accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry through close consultations with our friends, allies and other partners at the United Nations," Clinton said at the East-West Center in Honolulu.
Human rights violations
Human rights groups say Myanmar has one of the world's worst human rights records, with the regime detaining thousands of opponents, systematically destroying ethnic minority villages and using rape as a weapon of war.
Several other countries, including Australia and Britain, also support a UN commission, which could follow the lines of a probe on Darfur that triggered an arrest warrant on genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
A senior Obama administration official said in August that the US would support a probe.
But some analysts had expected the US would hold off on more overt support for an investigation until after the election as it tries to preserve dialogue at a time of potential transition in Myanmar.
Jared Genser, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's international counsel, welcomed Clinton's remarks and said it was now critical for the US to help set up a commission at the UN.
"The fact that she personally and publicly supported it is a step in the right direction," Genser said in Washington.
"The real question is whether the administration is prepared to focus concertedly on the diplomatic steps that will make this opportunity come to fruition. It's not clear yet."
Clinton said the US considered the November 7 election organised by the military regime as "deeply flawed," but also indicated a willingness to engage Myanmar.
"We will make clear to its new leaders that they must break from the policies of the past," she said.
Suu Kyi appeal
The elections are the first in Myanmar since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won in a landslide. But the party was never allowed to take power and the Nobel Peace laureate has spent 15 years under house arrest.
Myanmar's Supreme Court on Friday heard Aung San Suu Kyi's final appeal against her house arrest. It was unclear when the verdict would be announced.
Facing criticism at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Vietnam, Nyan Win, Myanmar's foreign minister, indicated the regime was ready to release the pro-democracy figure soon but only after the elections.
In unusually strong remarks, Philip Crowley, the US state department spokesman, criticised the offer and renewed the US call on Myanmar to free all political prisoners and allow Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the polls.
"This is a craven manipulation by Burma. How convenient that they are hinting that she might be released after an election that is unlikely to be fair, free or credible," Crowley told reporters in Washington.
"Burma knows what it has to do. It has to open up its political space for Aung San Suu Kyi and others to participate fully in the politics of Burma.
"It has to release its political prisoners - all of them - and it has to have meaningful dialogue with all elements of Burmese society," he added.