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UN Representative Asked to Postpone Visit to Burma - 2002-03-19

The government of Burma has asked a special U.N. representative who has been brokering reconciliation talks with the pro-democracy opposition to postpone a visit on the eve of his arrival in Rangoon. Government said officials were busy because of a reported coup attempt this month.

An official statement Tuesday said U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail has been asked to postpone his visit to a more convenient date. The statement said authorities were preoccupied with issues that need immediate attention following the coup plot.

U.N. officials expressed disappointment over the announcement. Mr. Razali said he hoped the recent events in Burma would not derail the process of reconciliation, which he has been mediating for nearly a year. The Burmese government has frequently said the reported coup attempt will not affect the reconciliation talks.

However, the Secretary-General of Bangkok-based Forum Asia, Somchai Homlaor, says postponing the visit can only be counter-productive. "The SPDC [ruling council] confirmed that the dialogue will continue," he said. "But the suspension of the visit of Razali is not really supportive of the dialogue."

Mr. Razali was due to arrive Tuesday for a four-day visit, his seventh since his appointment. Longtime observers expressed surprise over the last-minute postponement, saying some U.N. diplomats were already traveling when it was announced.

The secret talks between the military government and the pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi have been going on for more than a year. Since they began, the Burmese government has released more than 200 political prisoners.

But critics say the talks are moving too slowly and a delegation from the European Union, following a visit last week, underscored a desire for more rapid progress.

The Burmese government nearly two weeks ago announced a plot to overthrow the government had been uncovered. Security forces surrounded the residences of former military leader Ne Win and his daughter Sandar Win, placing them under virtual house arrest. They also arrested Ms. Sandar Win's husband and three sons and accused them of fomenting the plot. The chiefs of the air force and police and two regional commanders have also been dismissed and authorities say they are questioning about 100 people.

Officials Monday presented military uniforms, modern communications equipment, and unregistered vehicles, which they said were to be used by the plotters.