Time to prepare for Myanmar transition -US envoy

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 (Reuters) The US ambassador to the United Nations said today it was time to prepare for a government transition in Myanmar but conceded that the ruling military would continue to play a role in the country's future.

Zalmay Khalilzad was speaking as officials of the 15 UN Security Council member states tried to thrash out an agreed statement that would for the first time focus pressure on the junta from all the world's major countries, including China.

''We believe it's very important ... that there be negotiations for a transition and that we need to start preparing ourselves with regard to a transition in Burma,'' Khalilzad told reporters, using Myanmar's former name.

''The military, as a national institution, has its role to play in the transition and post-transition but it's very important that a serious dialogue on transition begins and that the international community, regional players, play their roles.'' Following pro-democracy demonstrations that were bloodily suppressed by authorities, the junta has named an official to act as go-between in possible talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Khalilzad called for her conditions to be improved so that she could prepare for negotiations and also urged that U.N.

special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who ended a four-day visit to Myanmar last week, return as soon as possible to assist a dialogue.

The United States, Britain and France circulated a draft statement on Myanmar to the UN Security Council on Friday condemning repression by the junta and demanding it free political detainees and start a dialogue with the opposition.

HAGGLING OVER TEXT For the past two days, Security Council diplomats have been haggling over the text. Khalilzad said he hoped the statement could be completed later today, but other diplomats said the council might not be ready to issue it until Thursday.

Unlike a resolution, a statement is not legally binding, but if a strongly worded text were approved by China, until now Myanmar's closest ally on the council, it would send a forceful message to the junta.

China, which has used its veto to block previous Security Council action on Myanmar said today any UN move now should be ''prudent and responsible'' and not involve sanctions.

But it did not rule out the issuing of a statement.

Diplomats said the draft's original language was likely to be softened in a final version.

''It's just the language and then the style. We all want it to be as constructive as possible -- to send a message without making it impossible for professor Gambari to undertake future missions,'' said Albert Yankey, a diplomat from Ghana, which currently chairs the Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed Myanmar today with US first lady Laura Bush, who has taken an active role in bringing attention to human rights abuses there, Khalilzad and UN officials said.

Ban updated her on the outcome of Gambari's visit to Myanmar, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Reuters TB VP0056

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