The United Nations human rights envoy to Burma has met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since a government crackdown on her party five months ago. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro also met detained senior members of her National League for Democracy party.
Mr. Pinheiro met Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday at her home in Rangoon. He is the second foreign official to meet with the Nobel Peace Prize winner since she was detained last May after her National League for Democracy party, or NLD, clashed with pro-government supporters. U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail met with her in October, but failed to obtain her release.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Pinheiro met with the central executive committee of the NLD, including party chairman Aung Shwe. It was the first known meeting by a foreign official with these party leaders since they were detained during the same crackdown.
Mr. Pinheiro Thursday visited a score of political prisoners at Insein prison on the outskirts of Rangoon. He said he found prison conditions terrible and called again for Burma's government to release all political prisoners.
The Brazilian diplomat is visiting Burma for the first time since the crackdown on the NLD that included the closing of most party offices. He is to report his findings to the United Nations General Assembly next week. The coordinator of the ALTSEAN-Burma pressure group, Debbie Stothard, says she does not expect the report to be positive.
"This year has been a year of rude shocks for the special rapporteur [envoy]. I do not think that he's going to be able to deliver much in the way of good news from this trip," says Ms. Stothard. "And it's clearly a case of adopting a holding pattern, of going through the motions of visiting Burma, so that he can produce some kind of report for the U.N. General Assembly."
Ms. Stothard says the Burmese government needs to release Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners without setting conditions. She says it must also start substantial dialogue with the pro-democracy movement or such visits are meaningless.
Several U.S. congressmen are criticizing Mr. Pinheiro's visit. They are questioning the United Nation's policy of dialogue with Rangoon, and say the U.N. envoy's mission is a failure because Burma's military government refuses to liberalize its regime.
Mr. Pinheiro Thursday also visited an exhibition on AIDS and said he was impressed to see the government's commitment to controlling an epidemic that until recently, it has ignored.
Mr. Pinheiro noted that the Burmese government has acknowledged AIDS as the country's third largest health problem after malaria and tuberculosis, and he hailed Rangoon's cooperation with international health groups on education and condom distribution.