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Burmese Opposition Sees UN Visit as Positive Sign

  • Ron Corben

Burma's political opposition, the National League for Democracy, is hopeful of progress on democratic reform after the three-day visit of a senior U.N. official. But there are still no signs of the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma's opposition National League for Democracy says it expects further steps will be made in the near term towards democracy, following the visit of a senior United Nations official.

Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, who concluded a three-day official visit Saturday, said he viewed the trip as a fact-finding mission, part of U.N. efforts to prompt democratic reform in Burma that has been stalled during the past two years.

Gambari was allowed to have a 45-minute meeting Saturday with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the U.N. official's guesthouse. It was the first time in two years that Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, has been allowed to meet with a foreign official.

National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win says the visit gives the party hope for the future.

"We [were] surprised," he said. "We do not think Mr. Gambari will meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We heard about this ... and I think the regime had changed their policy a little bit."

The meeting came after Gambari had visited the military government's senior general, Than Shwe. The government has been under severe international pressure because of its refusal to enact democratic reforms, and some diplomats believe the generals allowed the meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in a bid to reduce that pressure.

The National League for Democracy leader's current term of house arrest was extended six months in November 2005, and is due to expire on May 27. But Nyan Win, asked if he thought the events might signal her imminent release, said he had no idea.

"We do not know exactly," he said. "We are always expecting [the military] to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi - we are expecting always. No sign, no indication about release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."

A political road map towards democracy set out by the government in late 2003 has stalled. A constitutional convention was convened last year, but the National League for Democracy boycotted the proceedings, calling the convention a ploy designed to extend military rule in Burma.

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