Myanmar about to kick out UN official-diplomat

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BANGKOK, Nov 2 (Reuters) Myanmar's military junta is preparing to kick out United Nations country chief Charles Petrie for a statement he issued last month drawing attention to deepening poverty, a diplomat said today.

Petrie had been summoned to a meeting in the former Burma's new capital, Naypyitaw, for an official dressing down for the statement he released on October 24, United Nations Day, the Yangon-based diplomat said.

Afterwards, he and colleagues were given a letter saying the military government would not support any request by the UN to renew Petrie's assignment, due to end ''pretty much now'', the diplomat said.

Petrie is the UN's most senior diplomat in Yangon and had been laying the groundwork for a second visit by special envoy Ibrahim Gambari since September's bloody crackdown on monk-led pro-democracy protests. Gambari is due to arrive tomorrow.

UN officials in Thailand confirmed Petrie had been summoned to Naypyitaw, but said they did not know anything about the threat to kick him out.

Kicking out Petrie would not augur well for Gambari's mission to persuade the generals to enter serious talks about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a 1990 election landslide but was denied power by the army.

In the statement, Petrie said the protests that started in mid-August against shock increases in fuel prices and snowballed into a major anti-junta uprising were clear indicators of the dire state of the economy after 45 years of military rule.

''The events clearly demonstrated the everyday struggle to meet basic needs and the urgent necessity to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country,'' it said.

One of Asia's brightest economic prospects when it won independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has become one of its most desperate cases after a series of disastrous experiments with home-grown socialism.

It has also been riven by decades of ethnic civil war and, in the last 10 years, some US and European sanctions.

According to the UN's World Food Programme, five million people out of a population of 56 million do not have enough food. One third of children under five are underweight, and 10 percent are classified as ''wasted'', or acutely malnourished.

REUTERS RKM HT1607

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