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UN Envoy Meets with Burmese Military Regime Leader - 2003-10-02


United Nations envoy Razali Ismail held talks with Burma's senior general Thursday on the final day of a three day visit in an effort to secure the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Razali had earlier met with Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence as well as other supporters of her National League for Democracy Party.

Razali Ismail, on a mission to have all restrictions on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi lifted, said he had held "useful" talks Thursday with the military government's senior general Than Shwe.

The meeting capped a round of talks by Mr. Razali, who has been dispatched by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to press Burma's government - the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC - to restart dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Annan has warned that unless there is substantive dialogue, three years of efforts towards political reconciliation could grind to a halt.

On Wednesday, Mr. Razali held talks with Burma's recently appointed Prime Minister, Khin Nyunt. Later that day, he met for 90 minutes with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still recovering from recent surgery at her residence.

Since late 2000, Mr. Razali has been trying to broker reconciliation talks between the opposition and the government. But, the effort came to a dramatic halt on May 30th when government supporters attacked her political convoy in northern Burma. Since then, the opposition leader remains under house arrest.

In a new tact, Mr. Razali, in talks with ethnic leaders from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, urged them to support the road map recently announced by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.

The road map calls for steps to national elections and the drafting of a new constitution. Burma's last constitutional convention was suspended in 1996 after a boycott by the NLD. The NLD had won a landslide victory in 1990 general elections but the government refused to surrender power.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thai-based independent newspaper, The Irrawaddy, says Mr. Razali appears to be looking to Khin Nyunt's road map as a way to break through the current political stalemate.

"My impression is that yesterday (Wednesday) after he talked to ethnic leaders in Rangoon he seems to be quite closer to the Khin Nyunt road map plan asking ethnic leaders to support it along thee way together with NLD and other ethnic groups," Aung Zaw said.

But Aung Zaw says NLD members were reluctant to return to the draft constitution and instead were looking to redraw a new one, a move unlikely to be supported by the Rangoon government.

Burma remains under intense international pressure to lift the restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi.

In recent weeks, the U.S. toughened its sanctions halting imports from Burma and imposing controls on foreign exchange transactions.

Human rights groups estimate the government has detained up to one thousand three hundred political prisoners.

Several members the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - due to meet at a summit of leaders in Bali next week, have pressed the Rangoon government to free Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma - a member of ASEAN since 1997 - has faced widespread criticism over its detention of Aung San Suu Kyi from fellow ASEAN members.

Analysts say Prime Minister Khin Nyunt is expected to attend next week's meeting and seek to explain to ASEAN member states the government's plans for political reform under the road map proposal.

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