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UN chief rebukes Myanmar over Suu Kyi

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UN chief rebukes Myanmar over Suu Kyi

YANGON, July 4 – United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon publicly rebuked Myanmar’s generals on Saturday for denying him a visit to detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and said she should take part in politics before 2010 elections.

The UN Secretary-General expressed ”deep disappointment” as he wrapped up his two-day visit to the military-ruled state.

In a rare speech in Yangon to a crowd of about 500 diplomats, state officials, non-governmental organisations and opposition politicians, Mr Ban sharply criticised Myanmar for its human rights record and its failure to free political prisoners.

”Allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the government’s willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible,” Mr Ban said.

”I’m deeply disappointed that they rejected my request. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to participate in the political process without further delay.”

Although there was no applause during Mr Ban’s speech, his rebuke of the generals before a local audience prompted murmurs throughout the crowd at Yangon’s Drug Elimination Museum.

Dissent and criticism of the authorities are harshly dealt with by the generals, with rights activists, politicians and even comedians among those given harsh jail terms.

Mr Ban was made to wait overnight in Myanmar’s isolated new capital Naypyidaw for junta supremo Than Shwe to shoot down his request, saying Ms Suu Kyi was on trial and the country’s rulers did not want to be seen to interfere with the judicial process.

Ms Suu Kyi, who has spearheaded the campaign for democracy for two decades in the former Burma, is on trial for breaching terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home on May 4.

Critics have dismissed her hearing as a show trial and an attempt by the generals to keep her out of multi-party elections to be held next year.

Mr Ban said Myanmar’s human rights record was of ”grave concern” and said its people would suffer if the regime continued to be isolated as a result of its failure to initiate meaningful, inclusive democratic reforms.

”The question of today is this: How much longer can Myanmar afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights?” he told the crowd.

Mr Ban is expected to receive criticism for what he had said would be a ”very tough mission”, from which he left without any guarantees from the generals that Ms Suu Kyi and the more than 2,000 political prisoners would be freed.

Ms Suu Kyi’s trial was adjourned on Friday until July 10 because of a clerical error by the court, according to her lawyer.

Mr Ban, one of the few top world figures the Myanmar supremo is willing to meet, had hoped he would have some sway with the reclusive 76-year-old general having convinced him last year to allow humanitarian aid groups to enter Myanmar to help with post-Cyclone Nargis recovery efforts.

Although he did not receive any concrete assurances, the UN chief said he was optimistic political prisoners would be freed to take part in elections.

”I believe they are very seriously considering releasing political prisoners, if not soon, at the latest before the beginning of this election,” he told reporters in Naypyidaw.

A UN official said on condition of anonymity that Than Shwe told the delegation that next time Ban visits the country, he and his generals would all be civilians.

”When you come back I will be an ordinary citizen, a lay person and my colleagues will too, because it will be a civilian government,” the official quoted Than Shwe as telling Mr Ban.

Mr Ban had expressed concern his trip could be used by the ruling generals for propaganda purposes to legitimise Ms Suu Kyi’s trial and next year’s planned multi-party elections, which critics say will entrench nearly 50 years of military rule.

© Reuters Limited

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3a23168a-68a5-11de-a472-00144feabdc0.html

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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

July 4, 2009 at 3:19 pm

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