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December 7, 2008

Frustrated UN chief urges Myanmar to respond positively
UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced growing frustration at the failure by Myanmar's military regime to restore democracy and ruled out a return visit to the country at present, reported AFP.

After meeting with envoys of key countries seeking to foster dialogue between the military regime and its democratic opposition, Ban told reporters on Friday he sensed "not only high expectations but also growing frustration that our efforts have yet to yield the results we all hoped for."

"I share this sense of expectation and frustration," he added, noting he expected Myanmar rulers "to implement their commitments" regarding the release of political prisoners, including opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

"I urge the government of Myanmar to respond positively without further delay to our specific suggestions," Ban said as he appealed to all countries to "use whatever available leverage and tools to impress on the government of Myanmar (the need) to implement their commitments."

The UN secretary general said he remained committed to pursuing his good offices role to bring about national reconciliation in Myanmar but ruled out a return visit in the immediate future.

"At this time I do not think that the atmosphere is ripe for me to undertake my own visit there," he said. "But I am committed, and I am ready to visit any time, whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit, to be productive and meaningful."

Ban made a lightning visit to the country in May after its military rulers came under international fire for not allowing foreign aid in after a cyclone left 138,000 people dead or missing.

The UN boss made the remarks Friday after huddling with his so-called "group of friends on Myanmar."

The group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- as well as Australia, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

On Wednesday, more than 100 former leaders wrote to the UN chief urging him to travel to Myanmar to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The prominent figures behind the letter include ex-US presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-Australian premier John Howard, former French prime minister Lionel Jospin, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and ex-Philippine leaders Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino.

The letter recalled that the Council had on October 11 last year issued a statement urging the early release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.

The United Nations also had set the release of all political prisoners as one of its benchmark goals for 2008.

However, in direct defiance of these demands, the military junta has instead increased the number of political prisoners from 1,200 in June 2007 to over 2,100, the letter stated.

Last month, more than 100 Myanmar activists, including members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and relief workers, journalists, monks and lawyers, were each given harsh sentences of up to 68 years in prison.

Their jailing came in the wake of a crackdown on those involved in protests in mid-2007 that were brutally crushed by the military junta.

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