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UN Human Rights Official to Visit Burma Next Week

Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma (file photo)

A senior U.N. official will visit Burma next week for talks with its military leaders on their plans to hold a national election later this year.

The United Nations says its top envoy on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, will arrive in the country Monday on a five-day visit.

In a statement released Thursday, Quintana says he hopes to meet leaders of Burma's political parties to discuss the planned election, which will be the country's first in 20 years. He says the election will make 2010 a "critical" year for the Burmese people.

Among those party leaders he hopes to meet is Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who in under house arrest in Rangoon. She has been under some sort of detention for 14 of the last 20 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept Burma's last parliamentary elections in 1990, but the country's military rulers never recognized the results.

Burma's military has called the election as part of its roadmap for returning the country to democracy. But, pro-democracy groups and Western governments fear the election will lack credibility due to the military's detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and 2,000 other dissidents.

In another development, Burma's military drew criticism from the United States Wednesday for sentencing a Burmese-American human rights activist to three years in prison with hard labor.

A Burmese court convicted Kyaw Zaw Lwin of possessing a fake national identity card and undeclared foreign currency and violating immigration laws. He helped to organize a 1988 pro-democracy uprising in Burma, before fleeing a military crackdown on the opposition.

The U.S. State Department called the sentencing of Kyaw Zaw Lwin politically-motivated and unjustified and urged Burma to release him and allow him to return to the United States.

Burmese authorities arrested him last September after he arrived in Rangoon to visit his ailing mother. He was put on trial the following month.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.