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UN Envoy Encouraged by Talks With Burmese Military Leaders - 2003-06-09


U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail says he is encouraged by his meetings with Burma's senior military rulers to press for the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Razali says now he will not cut short his trip, as he had earlier threatened.

Mr. Razali told reporters in Rangoon that his Monday meeting with the second and third-ranking members of Burma's military government make him hopeful of fulfilling one or two of the objectives of his visit. He did not elaborate.

The Malaysian diplomat has been brokering reconciliation talks between the Burmese government and the opposition National League for Democracy.

His efforts were dealt a major blow 10 days ago when the government detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of party leaders. It also sealed party offices and closed Burma's universities.

The government says NLD members caused a clash in northern Burma in which four people were killed and more than 50 wounded. But U.S. officials who visited the scene called the incident an ambush by government supporters and said the casualty toll may be much higher.

Mr. Razali said before arriving in Rangoon Friday that he wanted to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. Human rights groups quote witnesses as saying she may have been wounded in the clash. Aides said he was prepared to cut short his visit if he was not granted access.

The Burmese leadership has not said whether it will allow access to Aung San Suu Kyi. Instead, it has sharpened its criticism of the NLD. The third-ranking junta member, General Khin Nyunt, Sunday accused the NLD of pursuing a course of confrontation with the government. And state-owned media Monday denied reports that Aung San Suu Kyi was injured.

The crackdown has angered the United States and the European Union. They have condemned the detentions and are threatening to toughen economic sanctions against Burma.

Ronald May, a professor at Australia National University's Asia Center, says diplomatic isolation and economic penalties have done little to prompt Burma to reform. "I think what we've seen over the years is that the regime has very little sensitivity to international reactions. It's very much a paranoid, isolationist regime," he said.

Professor May says the latest incident could be a temporary pause in the move toward political liberalization. But other observers say the government was never fully committed to political reform.

They note that the Burmese government in recent years has increased trade ties with its Asian neighbors and most importantly with China. As a result, they say, without support from these countries, sanctions against Burma are not likely to succeed.