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Annan Urges Thailand to Pressure Burma for Release of Democracy Leader - 2004-07-13

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wants Thailand to do more to persuade Burma to release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and push the country toward political reforms.

At a meeting in Bangkok with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the U.N. chief called on Thailand to use its influence over neighboring Burma to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair says Mr. Annan told Mr. Shinawatra that Thailand should have worked harder to push Burma towards democracy and to free Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been under detention for more than a year.

The spokesman said a meeting is being arranged between the Thai prime minister and Burma's military leader Than Shwe to discuss democracy in Burma.

Another Thai official says the meeting would take place in Burma, probably after a regional economic summit in Bangkok at the end of this month.

Sunai Phasuk in the Bangkok office of the rights group Amnesty International says the United Nations is likely frustrated with the slow pace of reform.

"I believe Kofi Annan's message was an expression of internal frustration that [the] political deadlock in Burma has not been solved. Thailand as Burma's immediate neighbor has played a very important role in reassuring the world community that the Burmese generals are, after all, serious," he said.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy. She and her political party won elections in 1990, but were not allowed to govern.

Since then, she has spent much of her time under house arrest, prompting many countries to impose trade sanctions against Burma.

Mr. Sunai says Thailand can play an influential role in Burma.

"It is now time for Thailand to prove that they are not supporting the wrong men and perhaps the best proof in the eyes of Kofi Annan, as well as other important international players, [would be] for the Burmese government to prove on democracy transition is by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners immediately and allow the NLD and other pro-democracy groups to operate freely," he added.

Burma, which has been ruled by the military for more than 40 years, is currently holding a constitutional convention, which critics call a sham. The military government says the convention is part of its plan for gradually allowing democracy.