UN Human Rights Envoy to Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana expressed “regret” that he was not given the opportunity to meet with Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as he concluded a five-day visit to the country.
At a press conference at Rangoon’s international airport, he said that it will be difficult to hold free and fair elections in Burma and that he saw no signs that Burma’s more than 2,100 political prisoners will be released. Quintana concluded his five-day visit to the Southeast Asian Nation to study the human rights situation ahead of the election later this year. He reportedly waited for the regime’s last-minute response to his request for a meeting with the detained pro-democracy leader, but the request was not granted. Neither was he permitted to meet with Suu Kyi on his previous visits to the country. In a move seen by observers as a slap in the face to the visiting human rights envoy, on Wednesday the regime’s Insein Prison Special Court sentenced a Buddhist monk to seven years in prison on three charges, including unlawful association. Four other dissidents were sentenced to jail terms on Monday, the day Quintana arrived in Burma.
On the final day of his trip, Quintana had talks with Foreign Minister Nyan Win, and other key government officials, including liaison minister Aung Kyi and attorney-general Aye Maung and chief justice Aung Toe in Naypyidaw, but he did not meet regime chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
On Thursday, the UN envoy met with the recently freed vice-chairman of the NLD, Tin Oo, as well as outspoken Win Tin and four other senior party officials at a Rangoon hotel.
When Quintana asked about the NLD’s position on the election, the party officials replied that they have not yet decided whether to participate or not. The decision will be made only after meeting with party leader Suu Kyi, they said.
“U Tin Oo told Quintana that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released if the regime wants her to participate in the national reconciliation process, and also because she is detained under a law from the 1974 Constitution which no longer exists,” the party spokesman Khin Maung Swe told The Irrawaddy.
Quintana, an Argentine diplomat, also held meetings with members of the pro-regime National Unity Party and leaders of ethnic cease-fire groups on Thursday.
Just hours before he left Burma, Quintana met with the foreign diplomats in the country, including the British and Australian ambassadors.
During his visit, the envoy visited notorious Insein Prison and two other prisons in northwestern Burma. He was allowed to meet with a number of political prisoners, including a prominent 88 Generation Students group activist, Htay Kywe, in Buthidaung prison, and detained Suu Kyi supporter Naw Ohn Hla in Insein Prison.
Quintana will make a report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in March.
Win Tin, who spent 19 years in prison as the longest-serving prisoner of conscience in the country, met with both Quintana and his predecessor, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, while in Insein Prison.
Win Tin described Quintana as “calm and controlled like an academic,” as opposed to his predecessor, Pinheiro, who he noted was “frank and pro-active like a politician.”
“If he reports to the UN that the dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and the review of 2008 Constitution are two most critical issues, then we can assume that his trip was successful to some extent,” said Win Tin.