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UN Envoy to Proceed to Burma


The United Nations special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, says he will go to Rangoon Friday as planned, despite a military government crackdown last week on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party. The visit comes as party activists complete nearly a week in detention.

Mr. Razali says he is proceeding with his trip to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and press for the release of all democratic opposition leaders.

The Malaysian diplomat brokered talks between the military government and the suppressed National League for Democracy (NLD) more than two years ago. His trip now will focus on the latest crackdown by the military government.

Burmese authorities detained the Nobel Peace Price winner and her colleagues last Friday after a clash in northern Burma. The government says they are in protective custody but are safe and unharmed. NLD offices and Burma's universities were closed following the incident.

The government says four people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the clash, which it blames on the NLD. But human rights workers and exiled dissidents quote eyewitnesses as saying the NLD was attacked by pro-government groups and several top opposition leaders were wounded.

Amnesty International researcher Donna Guest says concern is growing over the lack of information about the situation. "We need the military government to clarify the situation," she says. "We need Aung San Suu Kyi to be released immediately and unconditionally. We need an investigation as soon as possible."

Ms. Guest says there has been no information on the physical condition of the detainees because they have not had access to their families or their lawyers. As a result, she says U.N. envoy Razali must have access to the detainees. "Access for Ambassador Razali is crucial at this time. He has not been since November. This in and of itself is extremely worrying," says Ms. Guest.

The crackdown dashed hopes in the international community that the Burmese military government was moving slowly toward a dialogue with the opposition on a transition to democracy.

A professor at Australia National University's Asia Center, Ronald May, says such hopes may have been overly optimistic. "There appeared to be some loosening-up and some people were predicting a shift towards a more liberal regime, but that was never a clear-cut tendency and there was always a tendency for the regime to not want to let go and probably some differences within the regime," he says. "But I think what it underlines is the fact the regime's commitment to some liberalization is just not there."

The crackdown has drawn criticism from Western governments and expressions of concern from the United Nations. It has also led to calls for more punitive sanctions against the Burmese government, such as an embargo of all Burmese exports and the seizure of the military leaders' assets abroad.

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