Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

UN Chief Faces Steep Challenge in Burma

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

UN Chief Faces Steep Challenge in Burma

Article excerpt

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived Friday in military- ruled Burma (Myanmar) on a mission to unlock a political stalemate that has resisted past diplomatic solutions.

Chief among his demands is the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners held in Burma, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her trial was due to resume Friday, but a judge postponed the hearing until July 10. She is accused of breaking the terms of her house arrest by admitting an uninvited American visitor, who has also gone on trial.

In addition, Mr. Ban wants to discuss multiparty elections slated to be held next year. The junta has called the elections the final stage of a road map to democracy, but exiled prodemocracy groups and Western governments have described the process as a sham that will entrench the dictatorship.

On Friday, Ban met with Army General Than Shwe, the junta chief, in the capital, Naypyidaw. He is expected to meet with opposition groups and civil society leaders during his two-day visit, the Associated Press reported. But it isn't clear if he will be allowed to meet Ms. Suu Kyi before he leaves Saturday.

A difficult task for Ban

Previous UN envoys to Burma have pushed unsuccessfully for dialogue between the current regime, which seized power in 1988, and Suu Kyi, whose political party won the last elections in 1990. They were later annulled as the military clung to power.

Western diplomats say that unless he is able to wring concessions from the regime, such as a substantial release of political prisoners, Ban's mission may fare no better.

"The UN road doesn't seem to be leading anywhere," warns a diplomat in Bangkok.

Ban has acknowledged the enormity of the task. "This is going to be, I know, a very difficult mission. But at the same time, I know that to bring changes to Myanmar, political conciliation and democratization, we need to do our best," he told reporters in Singapore on Thursday.

On his last visit in May 2008, in the wake of a massive cyclone that ripped through southern Burma, Ban convinced the regime to open its doors to large-scale humanitarian aid. Working with neighboring Southeast Asian countries, international relief agencies eventually got a foothold in the cyclone-hit areas. …

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