U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he regrets the Burmese government's decision to extend the house arrest of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The military government's decision was announced a day after Mr. Ban left that country following a humanitarian mission to secure more assistance to survivors of Cyclone Nargis. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
Mr. Ban returned to New York Monday, following a mission that took him to natural disaster areas in Burma and China, as well as to an international donors conference for Burma during which tens of millions of dollars were pledged.
He told reporters that he "regrets" the decision of the government of Burma - also known as Myanmar - to extend for a sixth consecutive year Aung San Suu Kyi's detention under house arrest, which was announced Tuesday.
"The sooner the restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights," he said.
The secretary-general made clear both before and after his trip, that his mission was a purely humanitarian one intended to save lives, not to press a pro-democracy agenda.
But in response to reporters' questions, Mr. Ban said he did have an opportunity during his meeting Friday with Burma's leader Senior General Than Shwe to discuss some political issues, after the general himself opened the issue.
"But we broadly discussed and agreed that this good offices role mandated by [the U.N.] General Assembly will have to continue, and if necessary be deepened and broadened," he added. "I urged them that the seven-point democratization program should be put into implementation as soon as possible."
In Burma, the secretary-general visited two camps and flew over areas of the hard hit Irrawaddy Delta. On a brief stop in China Saturday, he visited a town in the earthquake-devastated Sichuan province.
"I went there with a message of solidarity and hope, telling the survivors that the world is with you and that the world is ready to help you," he said. "I extended my heartfelt condolences to the people of Myanmar and of China, expressing my admiration for the courage and resilience of the survivors and all those trying to help them."
Mr. Ban's humanitarian chief, John Holmes, who also just returned from Burma, said relief efforts in that country are likely to take up to six months.
He said since the secretary-general's visit there has been some progress on several fronts, including getting more aid flights into the tightly controlled country, obtaining visas for international aid workers and the establishment of logistical centers in five townships near the hardest hit areas to help distribute aid. But he cautioned that real improvement in the regime's attitude and cooperation could only be assessed as time goes on to see whether it implements promises it has made.