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NEWS UPDATES 27 June 2009

UN chief expected to push Myanmar junta to free Suu Kyi

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who hopes to travel to Myanmar after visiting Japan next week, said Thursday he wants to discuss the release of political prisoners, including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, with the junta leadership, Kyodo news reported.

While Ban did not pinpoint the dates of his possible visit, which some speculate could occur shortly after he leaves Tokyo next Thursday, he only explained that he is still considering the "appropriate" timing for it.

"It can be soon. It can be also decided at a later stage," he told Japanese reporters ahead of his three-day trip from next Tuesday to Tokyo, where he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Taro Aso and other leaders.

During his visit to Japan, Ban said he will discuss climate change and push Japan to set a more ambitious target in cutting greenhouse gases, as well as matters related to North Korea.

Ban's special adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, is already in Myanmar, hoping to lay the groundwork for the UN chief's visit. UN diplomatic sources said if the visit occurs, it would be a short one, with Ban possibly arriving July 4 from Thailand and leaving July 5.

Gambari's trip, his eighth, involves discussions about the international body's expectations about the democratisation process, as well as the release of political prisoners, Ban explained.

Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is now in prison after an uninvited American swam to her house. She has spent the last 13 out of 19 years under arrest or in jail. Suu Kyi, who just turned 64, faces a five-year prison term if she is convicted.

"The release of Madame Aung San Suu Kyi will be symbolically and politically important and she can be and she will be a very important dialogue partner for the reconciliation of Myanmar," Ban explained. "This is what I would like to discuss with Myanmar authorities."

Last year, Ban traveled to the country after the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Nargis. His trip was regarded as largely instrumental in allowing the closed country to open up to receive large supplies of aid and assistance from the international community to help the scores of victims there.

"This time I will be discussing, focusing more on democratisation and the political road map and also human rights issues," Ban said.

While many countries have been pressing for Ban's visit, some Western diplomats are concerned that the timing of the trip could be construed as legitimizing Suu Kyi's trial.


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