Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 5 News List

UN special envoy hopes to see Suu Kyi

SLIM HOPE Diplomats expect to have little effect on the junta's hard line which has kept the Myanmar democracy leader in confinement for the better part of 14 years


UN special envoy Razali Ismail arrived in Myanmar yesterday on a mission to persuade the military government to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and revive reconciliation talks with her.

Razali, a veteran Malaysian diplomat making his 11th visit to Myanmar, flew into Yangon just days after Suu Kyi, 58, was allowed to return to her lakeside home to recover from surgery.

The Nobel peace laureate, who has been detained at a secret location for more than three months before the operation, is still sealed off from friends and supporters by a tight security cordon.

A group of US and European diplomats were stopped from meeting Suu Kyi's doctor over the weekend near her villa, the US State Department said on Monday.

But Razali, who played a key role in securing Suu Kyi's release from house arrest last year, is expected to see her during his three-day visit. Diplomats say, however, that his chances of freeing her this time are very slim.

Suu Kyi has spent more than half of the past 14 years confined to her home. Her latest detention prompted international protests and US and EU sanctions against the junta.

Her return home would not ease Western pressure on Yangon.

"Putting her back in the house where she is effectively under house arrest is not enough. We're watching if Razali can resolve it," one Western diplomat said.

Razali's arrival in Yangon comes on the heels of a speech at the UN by Myanmar's military junta aimed at gaining international attention for moving toward democracy.

In a speech to the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly on Monday, Foreign Minister U Win Aung made no mention of Suu Kyi.

"In recent weeks, Myanmar has taken substantial steps on the road to democracy. It is important that the international community recognize the positive changes. Credit must be given where credit is due," he said.

Win Aung complained "some have accused us of deliberately creating a political impasse in order to delay the transfer of power."

The government "has the political will. We are firmly committed to bringing about a systematic transformation of democracy," he said. But the military rulers first have had to "rebuild the country from scratch," improving health care, education, housing and stability.

"Now the firm foundations have been laid, we have moved on to the next phase, to commence work on the drafting of a new constitution and to build a modern democratic nation in keeping with it," he added.

The generals may have given enough ground to avert tougher action from their Southeast Asian partners at a regional summit next month, diplomats say.

"Things should go step by step. We cannot force that country to do what we want. It has already given us something so we better give it time," the Bangkok Post quoted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as saying.

The 10-member ASEAN has long shunned commenting on each other's internal politics, but the group rebuked Yangon after Suu Kyi was detained on May 30 following a clash between her followers and government backers.

The controversy over Suu Kyi threatens to overshadow the group's Oct. 7 to Oct. 8 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

A bigger challenge for Razali will be to revive the reconciliation talks between the military and Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

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