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UN Hopes Envoy Will Bring Progress to Burma Talks - 2002-04-22


United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail is going to Burma this week in a bid to press for a breakthrough in secretive talks between the military government and Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

International impatience with the military over slow progress in the talks is running out.

The three-day visit by Mr. Ismail comes amid mounting pressures on Burma's military government to show clear signs of progress in talks with Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent Mr. Razali to Burma to provide what he termed "fresh momentum" to the talks.

During his visit Mr. Razali is expected to meet with senior government and ethnic leaders, including the chairman of State Peace and Development Council, Senior General Than Shwe. Mr. Razali will also meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy.

The negotiations between the junta and the opposition began in October 2000. They yielded little, apart from the release of about 200 political prisoners while more than 1,000 remain in jail.

Analysts are now looking for concrete results, such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house detention, as well as opening the talks to the national media.

Diplomatic sources in Rangoon said real results were needed amid reports Mr. Razali may resign unless progress is made towards a political dialogue. They also say that without visible progress, international sanctions may be tightened.

A March visit by Mr. Razali was postponed after the arrest of family members of former strongman General Ne Win over an alleged coup plot triggered political instability in Rangoon.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator for the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, says the military government has raised expectations of a breakthrough, only to fail to deliver.

"It is a make-or-break visit this time, but it is make or break for the military regime. The military has failed to deliver on tangible outcomes in these past few months, and they have been playing a very dangerous game."

Ms. Stothard says raised expectations have come not only from the international community but also among the people of Burma.

Growing frustrations are also evident among Burma's closest diplomatic allies, member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, which backed Burma's entry into the 10 nation group.

"If there is no tangible progress in the next few days what we are going to see a loss of eagerness on the part of the Asean countries to protect and defend the military regime."

There were many breakthroughs predicted before, and it remains to be seen whether this time the military delivers.

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