UN mediator arrives in Myanmar ahead of national referendum

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Bangkok, Mar 6: The UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari reached Yangon today on a mission to promote national reconciliation in the troubled Southeast Asian nation but few expect him to make any headway.

Mr Gambari is on the third visit to the country since the armed repression of peaceful anti-government street protests in Yangon last September. The UN mediator would consult with a broad range of representatives of Myanmar society, including all the groups which he was not able to meet during his last visit,'' UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York prior to his departure.

Before his latest trip, Mr Gambari consulted leaders in key Asian capitals last week, travelling to Beijing, Jakarta, Singapore and Tokyo to discuss ways to mediate in the political standoff in Myanmar.

Reports quoted leaders of ethnic political groups and political observers in Myanmar were skeptical of the outcome of the UN envoy's mission to Myanmar.

The recent announcement by the nation's military regime of a national referendum on the draft Constitution in May this year and the Parliament elections in 2010 was widely perceived as aimed at deflecting international criticism of the Junta following the September 2007 crackdown on Buddhist clergy-led street protests against rising prices.

Myanmar's rulers say this is part of their seven-step road map to democracy, but pro-democracy groups, including Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), have rejected the process as being non-inclusive of all stakeholders in the country.

The draft constitution was finalised last month after 14 years by a national convention that was largely handpicked by the military rulers.

Under the draft charter, the country's most popular pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in the last elections in 1990, cannot contest as she is married to a foreign national.

Ethnic political groups have been doubting whether the UN envoy's mission would make any progress or not.

''We don't expect much from his visit. I don't think the State Peace and Development Council (military regime) will listen and accept what Mr Gambari says and urges them to do at this moment,'' Aye Thar Aung, leader of of the Arakan League for Democracy was quoted as saying.

''Talks between Mr Gambari and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will just be a superficial show,'' he added.

A number of ethnic parties which won in the 1990 parliament election that was annulled by the military regime, formed an umbrella group with the NLD 10 years ago. Among these are the Arakan League for Democracy, Mon National League for Democracy, Shan National League for Democracy and the Zomi National Congress.

''The UN is not in a position to do anything for Burma at the moment. There will be no regime change in this situation. Our ethnic leaders are under the constant surveillance of the regime. It's totally disappointing,'' said U Thoung Ko Thang, leader of the United Nationalities Alliance who was also elected in 1990.

The ethnic leaders said they have so far been unable to meet Mr Gambari despite requests to do so.


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