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UN Envoy: ASEAN Plays Key Role in Helping Burma

The U.N. envoy to Burma says countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have a significant role to play in helping the military-ruled nation on the path to democracy and national reconciliation.

The United Nations released a statement saying special envoy Ibrahim Gambari told reporters in Jakarta that ASEAN members made their position clear last September at the United Nations and the following month at their summit in Singapore.

He stressed that he will continue engaging those countries, since Burma is an ASEAN member.

Gambari said Thursday, he hopes to return to Burma early next month to discuss the military government's plans to hold elections in 2010.

He said he believes Burma's leaders will soon invite him to return.

The Burmese government recently announced plans to hold a national referendum in May to approve a new constitution, and then hold general elections in 2010. The draft constitution would bar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the elections, a move that has triggered criticism from regional leaders and the United States.

Burmese officials say she is not eligible, because she was once married to a foreigner, a British citizen who died of cancer in 1999.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won Burma's last general elections in 1990.

The country's military leaders have refused to recognize the results of those elections and have kept the Nobel laureate under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.