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4 July 2009

Myanmar junta yet to respond to UN chief's request to see Suu Kyi

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The head of Myanmar's ruling military had stalled on United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s request to see Aung San Suu Kyi, leaving his mission to seek the democracy icon's release at risk of ending in failure, AFP quoted the UN chief as saying Friday.

Ban said military chief Than Shwe had not yet given him permission to see the 64-year-old opposition icon but added that he awaited a final reply before his "very tough" two-day visit ends on Saturday.

The UN secretary general flew to Naypyidaw, the government's remote stronghold, shortly after a prison court again adjourned the widely condemned trial of Aung San Suu Kyi on charges of violating her house arrest.

"I told him that I wanted to meet her in person. He told me that she is on trial but I told him this is my proposal, this is important and I am waiting for their consideration and reply," Ban told reporters after the talks.

"I am leaving tomorrow, so logically speaking I am waiting for a reply before my departure," he added.

Than Shwe appeared in his olive green military uniform at the start of the two-hour meeting in an ornate marble-floored reception hall, but did not speak.

Ban said he had also sought the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners that the UN says are held in Myanmar -- including Aung San Suu Kyi -- ahead of elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010.

"I proposed and I urged that all political prisoners should be released before this election begins, so that this election can be all inclusive," Ban said.

The 64-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi was transferred from house arrest to Yangon's notorious Insein prison in May on charges of violating her house arrest, after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

She has been in detention for most of the past two decades since the military refused to recognise her party's victory in the country's last elections in 1990, and now faces five years' imprisonment if convicted.

Rights groups warn that the trip will be a "huge failure" if Ban does not secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Critics have accused the military of using the trial to keep her locked up for the elections.

Ban said that during the meeting with Than Shwe, "I was assured that the Myanmar authorities will make sure that elections will be held in a fair, free and transparent manner".

Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in Yangon on Friday but the trial was adjourned for a week because the judges had not received an earlier judgement barring two defence witnesses, her National League for Democracy (NLD) said.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the trial this morning but the court said that as they haven't got the case from the Supreme Court, the trial is suspended to July 10," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.

The case has sparked international outrage, with US President Barack Obama calling it a "show trial" and a host of world leaders and celebrities calling for her release.

Ban has faced recent criticism for his softly-softly approach to the job of secretary general, but diplomats say he hopes his quiet brand of diplomacy will pay dividends with Myanmar's generals.

The visit is Ban's first to Myanmar since he persuaded the military government to accept international aid following Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which killed around 138,000 people.

Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Ban should not accept the apparent concession from the government of returning her to house arrest, instead of imprisoning her, as a sign of a successful visit.

"Time and again, the UN has politely requested Aung San Suu Kyi's release, but her 'release' back to house arrest would be a huge failure," said Kenneth Roth, New York-based HRW's executive director.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.


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