Fri, Nov 10, 2006 - Page 5 News List

UN emissary to push Myanmar junta for reforms, meet Aung San Suu Kyi


Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win, right, gestures as he speaks with UN Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari at Yangon International Airport yesterday.


Top UN official Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Myanmar yesterday for the second time this year to pressure the junta for democratic reform and meet detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Gambari came as an emissary of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who urged Myanmar to show "tangible steps forward" on human rights, democratic reform and national reconciliation.

The undersecretary-general for political affairs did not make any comments to reporters as he arrived at Yangon International Airport from Singapore for a four-day visit. He was greeted by Foreign Minister Nyan Win.

The Nigerian diplomat became the only foreigner allowed to see the 61-year-old Nobel peace laureate, who is under house arrest, in more than two years when he visited the isolated Southeast Asian nation in May.

Gambari's visit this week comes at a critical time for Myanmar as the UN Security Council held discussions on the country in September, with the US pressing for a resolution on its human rights abuses and lack of reforms.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who lobbied hard to put Myanmar on the council's agenda despite strong opposition from China, said the resolution would likely come after Gambari's visit.

The UN envoy was due to meet the foreign minister yesterday afternoon and Yangon-based UN staff later in the day, according to information ministry sources here.

Gambari would then fly to Myanmar's new administrative capital, Nay Pyi Taw, some 350km north of Yangon, tomorrow to hold talks with junta leader Than Shwe, according to the sources.

Following the meeting with the military leader, the UN envoy would return to Yangon to see Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 17 years, the sources said.

Annan has joined global calls for her release, and Gambari's surprise meeting with the democracy icon in May sparked hopes that the military government might finally set her free.

But just a week after the meeting, the junta extended her house arrest for another year.

Gambari is also expected to see seven senior NLD party officials tomorrow, the sources said.

Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Myanmar, a regional democracy lobby, said the military regime would do "a lot of damage control" to prevent any serious discussion on Myanmar in the Security Council.

"It's quite clear that the regime will be extremely motivated to convince Gambari that the situation does not merit UN Security Council attention," Stothard said.

"Hopefully, Mr Gambari will be able to see beyond the smoke and mirrors," she said.

Gambari's second visit to Myanmar also comes a month after the military government started a new round of talks aimed at drafting its constitution.

But the absence of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD in the talks, which have been held sporadically for more than a decade, has prompted the US the UN and the EU to dismiss the proceedings as a sham.

The NLD has boycotted the constitutional talks to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the country's estimated 1,100 political prisoners.

The NLD won 1990 elections in a landslide victory, but the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, refused to recognize the result.

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