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Myanmar junta stalls on Ban request to see Suu Kyi

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Myanmar junta stalls on Ban request to see Suu Kyi

Fri Jul 3, 2009 8:00am EDT

By Louis Charbonneau

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had a rare meeting with Myanmar junta supremo Than Shwe on Friday but left with no clear answer to his request to see detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who has spearheaded the campaign for democracy for two decades in the former Burma, is currently on trial for breaching a security law, which critics say is an attempt by the generals to keep her out of multi-party elections to be held next year.

“He told me that she is on trial. I told him that I wanted to meet her in person,” Ban told reporters after a meeting with the junta leader lasting nearly two hours in the country’s remote new capital, Naypyidaw.

“I am awaiting … their consideration and reply,” Ban said.

Ban had made no secret of his intention to ask for permission to meet Suu Kyi during his two-day trip, which critics say has been orchestrated by the junta to try to legitimise the Nobel laureate’s trial.

Ban called for the release all political prisoners ahead of the election and meaningful dialogue between the junta and opposition parties.

“This election should be credible, fair and inclusive, and a legitimate one,” Ban said. “I was assured that Myanmar’s authorities will make sure that this election will be held in a fair and free and transparent manner.”

Earlier, Than Shwe, 76, dressed in khaki uniform adorned with medals, was commended by Ban for his contributions to peace, prosperity and democracy.

“I would like to help move your country forward and appreciate your commitment to moving your country forward,” Ban told the general, who has led the Myanmar regime for 17 of its 47 years in power.


Suu Kyi’s trial was adjourned earlier on Friday because of a clerical error by the court, according to her lawyer.

The stakes are high for Ban and the risk of failure great.

Halfway through a five-year term at the helm of the United Nations, he has faced criticism from detractors who say his low-key approach to the job does not work. He is eager to prove them wrong, U.N. diplomats say.

Speaking to reporters before the visit, Ban made clear he was under no illusions about how difficult it would be to persuade the military junta to free prisoners and take concrete steps toward democracy ahead of the elections.

“I’ll do my best (but) I do not believe my visit should be a make-or-break event … This will be a very difficult mission,” he said.

Ban was due to meet representatives of “registered political parties” in Naypyidaw, including Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention, mostly under house arrest at her lakeside home in Yangon. During her trial, she has been held in a guest house in the compound of the notorious Insein Prison in the former capital.

Her lawyer said her trial had been postponed until July 10, apparently because the Supreme Court did not send case files to the district court, where Suu Kyi appeared on Friday.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her surprise that this happened,” lawyer Nyan Win told reporters.

The Nobel laureate, 64, was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home in May, which prosecutors say breached a security law designed to thwart “subversive elements.”

Critics say the charges are trumped up and that the trial is an attempt to keep Suu Kyi out of the way for the elections, expected to entrench nearly half a century of army rule.

Ban had expressed concern his visit would be used by the junta for propaganda purposes but he decided to go anyway, hoping his knack for quiet diplomacy would persuade the generals to compromise, as they did last year when Ban convinced them to lift humanitarian aid restrictions after Cyclone Nargis.

Analysts say Ban may have been given some indication by the generals, or by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari after his trip last week, that his visit might bring some kind of positive result.

Human Rights Watch said Ban “should not accept the return of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to house arrest or vague statements about political reform as signs of a successful visit.”

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

July 3, 2009 at 1:15 pm

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