Senior United Nations envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, is making his second official visit to Burma, whose military leaders have promised him a meeting with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Gambari's visit to Burma comes two months after the UN Security Council put the country's human rights record on its agenda.
The United Nations said earlier this week that it wants to see Burma's military rulers take tangible steps forward on human rights, democratic reforms and national reconciliation.
In September, the United States succeeded in placing Burma's human rights record on the Security Council's agenda. But the Burmese military, which has ruled the country for 44 years, usually ignores UN criticism and exhortations.
The Burmese government says it invited Ibrahim Gambari to visit, but it is unclear what he will be able to accomplish during his four days in the country.
On his first trip to Burma in May, Gambari was allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi - the first foreigner to do so in two years. According to the UN, he has been given assurances that he will be able to do so again this time around. Aung San Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990, but the military refused to turn over power to her, and she has been under house arrest for most of the time since then.
Debbie Stothard, who represents a non-governmental organization called the ASEAN Network in Burma, is hopeful that Gambari's visit can make a difference. She says Burma must release all political prisoners, stop its crackdown on minority ethnic groups and open a dialogue with civil society.
"The military regime invited Mr. Gambari this time, mainly because they are extremely worried about the fact that Burma is now officially on the agenda of the UN Security Council. It is very clear to us that the UN Security Council has a lot of leverage on the military regime of Burma, and we should be encouraging that the Security Council does whatever it takes to read the riot act to the military regime."
Stothard calls the Burmese regime a threat to regional security. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton has argued that drug trafficking, a flood of refugees, human rights abuses and the spread of HIV have also made Burma a threat to international peace.
But China's ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, has called such charges preposterous. China, along with Russia and India, provides Burma with the aid and trade that insulates the military regime from international sanctions.
One UN diplomat says putting Burma on the Security Council's agenda gives the United States and others a chance to air their criticisms of the military government at the highest level, while it remains unlikely that the Council, which includes China, can take any concrete action against the regime.