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UN envoy to make rare Myanmar visit this week

Written by: Staff

YANGON, May 16: A top U N official is expected in Myanmar on Thursday to press the military junta to restore democracy and respect human rights, but he is unlikely to meet detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, diplomats said.

Details of the trip by Ibrahim Gambari, the undersecretary-general for political affairs and the first U N envoy to visit Myanmar in more than two years, have not been announced.

But diplomats in Yangon today said the Nigerian envoy may meet junta leader Senior General Than Shwe during the May 18-20 visit.

Gambari has asked to see Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is under house arrest since her latest detention in May 2003.

''Of course he may want to see Aung San Suu Kyi, but we don't think he will be able to see her,'' a Western diplomat said.

The visit comes amid mounting pressure on Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the army which has ruled in various guises since 1962.

The junta accused the NLD last month of having ties to ''terrorists and destructive groups'' and said it had cause to ban the party, but would allow it exist for now.

Since then, the party has been hit by a spate of resignations which NLD officials blame on pressure from the regime.

Most recently, Myanmar's army has been driving thousands of ethnic Karen out of villages close to the junta's new jungle capital, near the town of Pyinmana, in what appears to be the biggest offensive against the Karen in 10 years.

Aid and humanitarian groups say their work in Myanmar has been curtailed by new government restrictions imposed in February, including forcing their staff to be accompanied on trips by government officials.

Malaysian Razali Ismail, who gave up his post as U N special envoy to Myanmar in January after he was refused a visa for nearly two years, said the generals seemed to be digging in their heels against demands for reform from the United Nations as well as the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations.

The United States and other Western nations want to put Myanmar formally on the council agenda, which would increase pressure on the government.

But in December China, Russia, Japan and others said the council was exceeding its mandate by involving itself in a human rights issue.


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