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United Nations Envoy to Burma Quits Over Impasse

The United Nations special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, has given up his post because of the military government's refusal to allow him into the country. Burma experts say the move comes as no surprise and reflects the increasing isolation of the hard-line Rangoon government.

Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, appointed as U.N. special envoy to Burma in 2000, said Sunday it would be more difficult for the country to move toward national reconciliation and democracy if the United Nations is kept at arm's length.

Other senior U.N. officials, including the special envoy on human rights to Burma, Paulo Pinherio, have also been repeatedly refused access.

Debbie Stothardt, from the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says Razali's decision comes as no surprise.

"A lot of people were expecting this, his contract was due for renewal in December and it was quite clear the regime had no intention whatsoever of allowing him back into the country," said Ms. Stothardt.

Razali was last in Rangoon in March 2004, but left after failing to persuade the military to release Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, who has been under house arrest for much of the past decade.

Stothardt says hopes had been high that Razali would be able to press for greater democracy in Burma.

"Many had hoped Razali's diplomacy would be a catalyst for positive change and ensure momentum for change in Burma," she added.

In 2002, the envoy did help secure Aung San Suu Kyi's release. But hopes for democratic progress evaporated when she was again detained in 2003.

Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, led by Thailand, have attempted to build on Razali's diplomatic efforts by encouraging Burma to reconcile with the opposition and move toward political reform.

But Rangoon's failure to make substantial progress on its so-called road map to democracy, including a new constitution and fresh general elections, has drawn widespread criticism from ASEAN.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist, says the refusal to allow Razali into Burma highlights the country's increasing isolation.

"As isolation increases I think more international organizations and other countries in general may try to even push further for the Burmese to open up - including China," he said. "I think is increasingly becoming concerned about Burma becoming isolated."

The United States and other Western nations have tried to put Burma's human rights record on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. However, other countries, such as China and Russia, have opposed the move.