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UN Envoy Begins Another Mission to Burma - 2003-09-30


United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail began a three-day visit to Rangoon Tuesday amid efforts to revive stalled political reconciliation talks as well as press for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

Razali Ismail is on his 11th visit to Burma as part of United Nations efforts to broker a dialogue between the military government and pro-democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

Mr. Razali made no comment as he arrived in Rangoon on Tuesday. But diplomats say Mr. Razali will be seeking to negotiate freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now under house arrest and recovering from major surgery.

Mr. Razali, is expected to meet the NLD leader Wednesday during his three-day visit.

He last saw Aung San Suu Kyi in June, soon after she was detained following an attack on her political convoy by government supporters on May 30.

The government says Aung San Suu Kyi, held at a secret location, has been under protective custody following the attack.

Mr. Razali, will also meet the government's senior general, Than Shwe and Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. Since 2000, Mr. Razali has succeeded in negotiating Aung San Suu Kyi's release in May 2002 as well as the release of dozens of political prisoners.

But diplomats and analysts are less upbeat over Mr Razali's visit this time. Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy independent newspaper, says Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, is expected to spell out to Mr. Razali details of Burma's "road map" to democracy.

"My understanding is that Khin Nyunt will explain him or lecture about the Burmese version of [the] 'road map.' Then Mr. Razali may try to explore more ideas - apart from that I don't think he can achieve [much]," he said.

General Khin Nyunt has set out a seven-point program for a transition to democracy and re-open a national convention to draw up a new constitution.

In an address to the U.N. this week Foreign Minister Win Aung said the government was firmly committed to bringing about "a systematic transformation to democracy".

But Mr. Aung Zaw says the political direction the government is taking the country remains unclear.

"The people are asking for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and the condition of freedom and also there are over 1,300 political prisoners in jails," said Aung Zaw. "And the government has shown no willingness to sit down with the opposition parties. How can you say it's leading to the right direction? It's going nowhere, in fact."

Burma has come under intense international pressure from the United States and Europe to free Aung San Suu Kyi. The United States recently imposed tough new economic and trade sanctions to press the case for her release.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, has also pressed the government to free Aung San Suu Kyi before the 10-nation group's summit in Indonesia which begins October 7.

ASEAN members fear that Aung San Suu Kyi's detention will threaten to over take other crucial issues on the summit's agenda, as well as trigger potential splits within ASEAN.

Burma has been under a military government since 1962. The current regime came to power in 1988 and while Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won elections in 1990, the government has refused to give up power.