Myanmar junta snubs UN secretary-general


Yangon : The Myanmar junta Saturday snubbed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s requests to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or even to visit the Nobel peace laureate, who is currently in a Yangon jail, sources said.

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Ban arrived in Yangon midday Saturday from Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s military headquarters, 350 km north of Yangon, where the UN chief met twice with junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

Ban asked Than Shwe to free Suu Kyi, 64, and some 2,100 other political prisoners prior to a planned general election next year. He also requested permission to see Suu Kyi, who currently resides in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison.

He was refused both the requests, government officials confirmed.

“There will be no meeting between Ban and Suu Kyi,” said a Yangon-based government official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Upon arrival in Yangon, Ban immediately departed for the Irrawaddy Delta, which was devastated by Cyclone Nargis May 2-3 last year, leaving an estimated 140,000 people dead or missing.

Ban last visited Myanmar a year ago, when he succeeded in persuading Than Shwe to facilitate international aid to the millions of victims left homeless and without food or medicine by the cyclone.

He has been less successful on this trip, which aimed at putting political pressure on the authoritarian regime that has ruled Myanmar since 1988.

Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy opposition party, has been imprisoned for 14 years and faces another three to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest.

The Nobel peace laureate has been charged with deliberately allowing US citizen John William Yettaw to swim to her lakeside residence May 3 and spend two nights in her compound.

A special court was scheduled to hear a defence witness in the Suu Kyi case Friday, but the hearing was postponed until July 10, perhaps because of Ban’s arrival.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the 1990 general election by a landslide but has been blocked from power by Myanmar’s junta ever since.

The new trial of Suu Kyi, whose most recent six-year house arrest sentence expired May 27, has sparked a chorus of protests from world leaders and statements of concern from its regional allies in Association of South-East Asian Nations.

Ban will stop over in Bangkok Saturday night, when he has scheduled a brief meeting with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

“Abhisit is meeting the UN secretary-general both in his capacity as prime minister and as the current chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN),” Thai foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said.

“Obviously Myanmar will be discussed but it will not be a single-issue meeting,” Thani added.