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UN Envoy Appears Unlikely to Secure Release of Burma Opposition Leader - 2003-06-07

United Nations Special Envoy Razali Ismail met with one of Burma's leading military figures in Rangoon Saturday, as part of his effort to have opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi released from custody. But Mr. Razali has received few indications that his visit will be a success.

Mr. Razali met for an hour Saturday morning with Burma's military intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, to press his request for access to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Even as the meeting was taking place, however, Khin Nyung was being quoted in Rangoon's government-run newspapers as blaming Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy for the violence that preceded her detention.

Following Saturday's meeting, Mr. Razali had little to say, telling reporters only that he was still in the process of making his case. He had already met with Foreign Minister Win Aung after his arrival in Rangoon on Friday.

Reports from the United Nations in New York say Mr. Razali has orders from his superiors to leave Burma if he fails to obtain permission to meet the detained pro-democracy leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi and at least 19 members of the NLD have been in custody since May 31, after violence erupted a day earlier while they were making a political tour of a provincial town in Northern Burma.

The military government says four people were killed and dozens wounded in that clash and that Aung San Suu Kyi was taken into "protective custody," while Burmese dissident groups say the death toll was higher.

Rangoon-based diplomats and U.S. officials say the NLD leader herself was injured in the incident, and is now being held at a guesthouse on the outskirts of Rangoon.

The U.S. State Department also says the violence was actually a premeditated attack on the NLD by supporters of the Burmese government. Khin Nyunt's published comments on Saturday gave a different story.

Mr Razali's latest visit marks one of the toughest challenges the special U.N. envoy has faced since late 2000, when he played a key role in brokering reconciliation talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government.

The government did release dozens of political prisoners and allowed the NLD to reopen offices throughout the country after that. But there have been mounting signs in recent months that the two sides were failing to make any headway towards true reconciliation.

The NLD won Burma's last free elections in 1990, but the military has never allowed the party to take power. Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, while under house arrest.