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UN Secretary-General Plans December Visit to Burma

Burma's opposition party, the National League for Democracy, says the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is to visit Burma in December to hold talks on the country's political problems. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the NLD was told of Mr. Ban's scheduled visit during talks with the U.N. special envoy currently on a five-day official visit.

News of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's planned visit to Burma late this year came in a meeting Wednesday with executives from Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy or NLD, and the U.N's special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

NLD spokesman, Nyan Win, said the visit of Mr. Ban would be taking place during the last week of December.

"Mr. Gambari said Mr. Ban Ki-moon will visit Burma in the last week of December this year and he said this Mr. Ban Ki-Moon's trip is only [about] political issue," he said.

Gambari is currently on a five-day official visit to Burma as part of United Nations efforts to open the way for a political dialogue between the military government and the opposition to press for political reform.

Mr. Ban had visited Burma in May in the weeks immediately following a devastating cyclone as part of international steps to speed up relief and recovery efforts from the disaster that claimed as many as 130,000 lives. But the visit largely precluded any discussions on Burma's political situation.

Debbie Stothardt, a spokeswoman for the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says while talks are viewed as positive, the military government should take genuine steps to political reform in the meantime.

"It is a hopeful step," she said. "However, this doesn't mean that the regime has to sit pretty until December rolls around. They do really need to show that they are willing to engage in reforms and to make that dialogue with Mr. Ban meaningful. They can, for example, release all political prisoners now and stop attacking people in Eastern Burma."

Earlier in the week Gambari met Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win and held talks with diplomats and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Burma's military government, in power since 1962, has ignored international pressure to take steps to political reform and release political prisoners. In September last year the military forcibly put down street protests, led by Buddhist monks, calling for reform.

In May the military went ahead with a national referendum on a new constitution as part of its own "road map" to democracy despite the impact of the recent cyclone on the country.

Gambari had been scheduled to meet with opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday. But amid tight security at the state guest house in Rangoon, the opposition leader failed to appear and no clear reason was given by government officials as to why she didn't appear.

Aung San Suu Kyi remains under detention and has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Her period of detention was recently extended by the military government.