Gambari in Myanmar amid row over top UN official

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YANGON, Nov 3 (Reuters) United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari returned to army-ruled Myanmar today as a row over the junta's move to kick out the UN's top resident diplomat overshadowed his mission to coax the generals to reform.

Gambari was greeted at Yangon airport by UN country chief Charles Petrie, who was told by the regime yesterday he was no longer welcome after highlighting a deepening economic crisis that fuelled mass protests crushed by the army in September.

Journalists were barred from seeing Gambari, but a UN official said he left Yangon on a government plane for the junta's new capital, Naypyidaw. Petrie did not accompany him.

The Nigerian diplomat, on his second visit to the former Burma since the crackdown which official media says killed 10 but diplomats say many more probably died, aims to persuade the junta to enter serious talks about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the six-day mission has been complicated by the generals' decision not to renew Petrie's credentials.

''Burma's generals will do anything to avoid being pressured into talks about genuine reform,'' Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

''But now the danger is that Gambari will spend his time talking about the UN's role in Burma instead of the need to end the crackdown and bring real reform. Gambari should stick to his agenda instead of falling for such cheap ploys''.

Singapore said it was disappointed by the move against Petrie, who had been summoned to Naypyidaw for an official dressing down for a statement he released on the October 24 United Nations Day, which Myanmar said had tarnished its image.

''It also sends an inconsistent message about Myanmar's willingness to continue engaging the UN in improving its domestic political and socio-economic situation,'' Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Singapore is currently the chair of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, one of the few international groups to admit Myanmar as a member. The city-state is also one of the biggest investors in the former Burma.

The United States condemned Petrie's apparent expulsion.

''This outrageous action the day before the arrival of UN Special Envoy Gambari in Burma is an insult to the United Nations and the international community,'' National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ''has full confidence in the United Nations country team and its leadership,'' his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said yesterday, adding that he endorsed the views in the statement issued by Petrie.

It was not known when Petrie would leave the country.

REUTERS SKB RN1631

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