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UN Envoy Visits Burma to Plan UN Chief's Visit

A United Nations special envoy is in Burma to prepare for a possible visit by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next month. Ibrahim Gambari's visit comes as Burma's military-run government is threatening democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi with up to five years in prison for violating the terms of her house arrest.

Gambari met Friday with Foreign Minister Nyan Win in the country's administrative capital Naypyidaw. Details of the meeting were not immediately available.

It is not clear if Gambari will meet with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest.

Nonetheless, the U.N. envoy's visit was welcomed by her opposition National League for Democracy party and cautious rights activists.

Debbie Stothard is coordinator of the alternative ASEAN network on Burma, a regional human rights organization.

"It will help if Mr. Gambari is able to deliver an ultimatum on behalf of the international community which is also backed by China, for example, that the regime should release Aung San Suu Kyi and call off the trial and proceed with a genuine dialogue process," she said.

This is the U.N. envoy's eighth trip to Burma as part of so far unsuccessful efforts to see political prisoners released and democracy restored.

The U.N. secretary-general is considering whether his own visit would help those efforts.

The U.N.'s spokesman in Burma was not authorized to give any details on Gambari's trip, underscoring the political sensitivities of the discussions.

Stothard said if Gambari cannot get any concessions from Burma's military rulers, a trip by the U.N. chief would be a waste of time.

"Mr. Ban Ki Moon's arrival in Burma should be based on the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released and that the regime is taking genuine steps to move towards democratization. And, that also includes the release of all political prisoners, including ethnic leaders," she explained.

Aung San Suu Kyi is facing up to five years in prison for allowing an uninvited American man to stay in her house without official permission.

The trial is believed to be an excuse to keep the Nobel Peace Prize winner locked up through next year's elections.

The NLD won Burma's last elections in 1990 but the military never allowed them to take power and has kept Aung San Suu Kyi in her house for most of the last 19 years.

The American man, John Yettaw, and two of Aung San Suu Kyi's aids are facing similar jail time.

Burma's military government does not tolerate dissent and currently has more than 2,000 political prisoners behind bars.