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International Community Awaits Progress in Burma - 2002-04-25

U.N. special envoy, Razali Ismail says he is hopeful he can bring Burma's government and the pro-democratic opposition closer together. Freedom for the opposition's top leader would be a key sign of success. Mr. Razali told reporters he was hopeful of bridging the gap between the military government and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy or NLD.

Mr. Razali has been in Rangoon for three days, on his seventh visit since he began brokering talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi two years ago. This week, he met with senior government leaders, opposition members, business people and heads of ethnic parties. Mr. Razali is to meet Aung San Suu Kyi again at her home on Friday before departing Burma. She has been under house arrest since late 2000.

The international community is watching closely for signs of progress in the effort to open political dialogue in Burma. The military has ruled Burma since 1962 and it refused to hand over power after 1990 general elections.

Somchai Homlaor, a spokesman with the think tank Forum Asia, says the first step toward reconciliation is clear.

"First of all, (the government) should release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and allow her to have the freedom of movement. All political prisoners should be released. There are still many under the detention."

Mr. Somchai warned that if Mr. Razali does not make progress within weeks, the international community would tighten economic sanctions on Burma.