Ban ‘Wants Suu Kyi Freed before Visiting Burma again’

The Burmese military junta has invited United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma next month, but UN sources say he is unlikely to accept if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment or a further term of house arrest.

The sources say said Ban wants to make sure that any visit to Burma produces tangible results and is not used for propaganda purposes by the military junta.

Ban’s spokesperson, Michele Montas, told reporters that no decision had yet been taken on the junta’s invitation.

The UN sources said Ban would consult members of the Security Council and his Group of Friends on Burma before deciding whether to accept the invitation.

A team of UN officials is discussing with Burmese authorities details of a Ban visit to Burma. If Ban decides to go, he will be preceded by UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Sources say that despite the low profile Gambari has been maintaining, he has been in close communication with the Burmese authorities.

Ban last visited Burma after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, and he has since shown keen interest in returning, this time to discuss political issues with the junta—including moves towards democracy and the release of political prisoners.

Ban and Gambari are reported to have both written letters to the junta expressing their concerns about the trial of Suu Kyi. However, the response has been “opaque,” officials said.

Gambari, on behalf of Ban, has been insisting that any visit by the secretary general should result in tangible results, including progress in restoring democracy and the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The junta on the other hand has been seeking firm assurances from the members of the Security Council—specially the US, Britain and France—that economic sanctions against Burma would be lifted. These countries, however, want the junta to take the first step and release Suu Kyi, before they lift at least some of the sanctions.


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