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UN Investigator Begins Visit to Burma - 2002-02-11

U.N. human-rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has begun a 10 day visit to Burma to continue his assessment of civil and political rights. But there is growing frustration within Burma's pro-democracy opposition over his slow progress.

After meetings with government leaders and a visit to northern Kachin state, U.N. human-rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is likely to meet with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Pinheiro, a Brazilian professor, took up the U.N. post about a year ago amid efforts to start a dialogue between the military government and Ms. Suu Kyi.

Mr. Pinheiro and U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail have been part of efforts to promote reconciliation and to free political prisoners.

Aung Zaw, editor of the opposition Burmese online news service, The Irrawaddy, says there is growing disappointment and skepticism over the U.N. efforts. "I think people's expectations are a bit low at the moment in Burma," he said. "Particularly since as political dissident groups they were quite skeptical of his visit because they pointed out that he always follows the government guideline wherever he visits."

Since the reconciliation talks began, the government has released more than 207 members of Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy from prison. The party also has been able to open some offices.

But the NLD estimates that more than 800 of its members remain in jail, including some who won political office in the 1990 elections. The NLD had a landslide victory, but has never been able to take office.

Mr. Aung Zaw says the government successfully has held off international critics during the past two years. "I think it is part of a PR showcase," said Aung Zaw. "The government is trying to show they are more human, they are more soft line, more willing to take outside opinions to accommodate, to respond to international opinions."

Mr. Aung Zaw says former Burmese political prisoners now in Thailand are increasingly critical because the U.N. envoy's visits failed to show results. He does not expect Mr. Pinheiro to make significant progress during this visit.