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Burma Opposition Criticizes UN Envoy for Lack of Progress on Reforms


The U.N. special envoy on Burma faces criticism over his failure to press the government toward reform during his latest visit. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, Ibrahim Gambari's lack of progress has raised doubts over the U.N. role in bringing about reconciliation between the military government and Burma's pro-democracy opposition.

In a rare show of frustration, Burma's leading opposition group has openly criticized U.N. efforts to bring political reform to the country.

The National League for Democracy says a visit by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was a waste of time. He left Burma on Saturday and began trips to Thailand and Indonesia to discuss Burma.

Gambari was not able to bring the military government and the NLD together for talks.

After years of trying, the United Nations has made almost no progress in persuading the military to allow political reforms, tolerate dissent and free political prisoners.

Some experts say the effort has failed and human rights groups call for stronger measures.

Australian National University regional security expert Carl Thayer says Gambari's failure to open a political dialogue may lead to his role being curtailed.

"Gambari is coming under criticism by the National League for Democracy for his lackluster diplomatic style," he said. "I think in the circumstances he spent nearly a week there - did not see Aung San Suu Kyi, did not see Than Shwe - the junta leader - I think his role is effectively over."

The head of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, did not attend scheduled meetings with Gambari during this trip. No reason has been given, but a Burma human-rights group thinks she has grown impatient over the U.N failure.

"It is very clear. Aung San Suu Kyi has made it incredibly clear by refusing to meet with Mr. Gambari that she has lost confidence in this process and she refuses to engage in this process," said Debbie Stothardt, the spokeswoman for the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. "It is a dramatic step."

During the visit Gambari met with Burma's prime minister and foreign minister, but did not meet with the senior general, Than Shwe.

Burma's military government has set out a "road map" to democracy that includes elections in 2010. But the NLD accuses the military, in power since 1962, of manipulating the process to extend its rule.

Most Western nations have imposed economic sanctions against Burma's government because of its repression. But most of Burma's neighbors, including China and India, have no such sanctions.