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Annan Calls for Democratic Reforms in Burma


The head of the United Nations pushed Burma's military government to institute democratic reforms. The comments came at the Asian-African Summit in the Indonesian capital.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Burma's leader, General Than Shwe in Jakarta on the sidelines of the Asian-African Summit.

Than Shwe is making a rare overseas visit to Jakarta to attend the two-day gathering of Asian and African leaders, which ends Saturday.

Burma's ruler Senior General Than Shwe
Mr. Annan says he urged Than Shwe to proceed with democratic reforms and expressed concern over the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, who has been detained for nearly two years.

"I did raise the question of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD and the fact that it was important that all citizens are able to participate in the constitutional process in the national discussions, to be able to do it freely, without restriction, and to be able to organize themselves and exercise their individual and democratic rights," Mr. Annan said.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD overwhelmingly won elections in 1990 but the military never allowed the party to take power.

Since then, she has spent much of the time in jail or under house arrest, as have many other NLD members.

Than Shwe also met with other Asian leaders at the summit to discuss the contentious issue of Burma's chairmanship in 2006 of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

Because of Rangoon's poor human rights record, the European Union and the United States have objected to Burma taking the rotating leadership of ASEAN.

Rangoon says any decision on the chairmanship is an internal matter and that it will not be swayed by international pressure.

The issue has split ASEAN, with some countries calling for Burma to withdraw from the chairmanship while others want to adhere to the group's principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its members.

Mr. Annan says he hopes Burma's leader will take to heart their discussion.

"I think he obviously listened to me, he got my message, and obviously he'll go back, hopefully to think about it and do something about the message I gave him," he said.

Burma's military seized power in 1962. Many Western nations have placed economic sanctions against the country, hoping to push Burma into making democratic reforms.

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