Mr Ban was under pressure to produce results from his two-day mission to Burma, which was criticised as providing an endorsement of the Burmese leadership just as it is staging a trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The high-stakes visit to Burma comes at a critical time for Mr Ban, whose low-key approach to his job has been criticised as ineffectual. He came under further fire on arrival in Naypyidaw, the regime’s headquarters, when he told junta leader Gen Than Shwe: “I appreciate your commitment to moving your country forward.”
“That is absolute nonsense,” said Brad Adams, a Burma specialist at Human Rights Watch. “It’s just what we implored him not to say, to make these diplomatic gaffes. Than Shwe has steadily moved his country backwards.” British officials were also furious at the remarks. They had urged Mr Ban not to visit Burma, and risk handing the junta a propaganda prize, without ensuring he would gain concessions in the form of the release of political prisoners and steps towards genuine democracy. Gen Than Shwe said little at his meeting with Mr Ban and did not grant his request to meet Suu Kyi in prison. Mr Ban expressed hope that a meeting could still be permitted. “I am leaving tomorrow, so logically speaking I am waiting for a reply before my departure,” he said. The secretary general added that he had called for the release of all political prisoners before the elections, but got no response.
However, Mr Adams said: “A meeting with Than Shwe is not a success. Even a meeting with Suu Kyi shouldn’t be counted as a success, if all it means is she goes from being in jail back to being under house arrest. –