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20 February 2010

UN envoy upset by junta’s refusal to let him meet Myanmar democracy icon

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A UN envoy said Friday he "deeply regretted" that Myanmar's ruling military had refused to let him meet detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of elections promised later this year, AFP reported.

Tomas Ojea Quintana spoke out after meeting government officials on the fifth and final day of a trip that was focused on inspecting the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of the first polls in two decades.

"I deeply regretted that my special request to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not granted," Quintana told reporters at Yangon international airport before flying to Bangkok. Daw is a Burmese-language term of respect.

"I am disappointed that even this time I was unable to meet her at this crucial time in this election year, the first national election in 20 years," said Quintana, making his third trip to Myanmar.

Myanmar's ruling generals have promised elections later this year but have not yet set a date or issued any election laws, fuelling claims that the vote is a sham aimed at legitimising the military's grip on power.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years. She had her house arrest extended by 18 months in August after a bizarre incident in which an American man swan to her lakeside home.

"I specially requested to meet with Daw Aung Suu Kyi in advance of my mission. Nonetheless this meeting did not take place. I am disappointed," added Quintana, who was appointed as envoy in 2008.

The Argentinian diplomat was also refused access during his visit to reclusive military supremo Senior General Than Shwe, the man credited with taking all important decisions in Myanmar.

Instead he held talks on Friday in the remote capital Naypyidaw with Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Home Affairs minister Maung Oo, as well as the chief justice, attorney general and police chief, officials said.

Quintana was allowed to meet key figures from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) during his visit, including vice chairman Tin Oo, who was freed from house arrest on February 13 after seven years in detention.

"We met for about one hour. We discussed the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the political prisoners," Tin Oo said after the meeting late Thursday.

"We also spoke of our request for a meeting between the Senior General and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and for a meeting between (her) and our central committee members so that we can continue our work for the future," he said.

The NLD has not yet said whether it will take part in the polls, the first in Myanmar since 1990 when the NLD won by a landslide. The military subsequently annulled the result.

Myanmar's new constitution, voted through in a 2008 referendum just days after a devastating cyclone killed around 138,000 people, effectively bars Suu Kyi from standing and reserves a quarter of legislative seats for the military.

The military has also continued a crackdown on dissent ahead of the polls.

A court at Yangon's notorious Insein prison sentenced Buddhist abbot Gaw Thita to seven years in jail on various charges on Wednesday, the opposition said, the fifth dissident to be imprisoned during Quintana's visit alone.

Gaw Thita was arrested in August as he returned from a trip to Taiwan, while seven other monks detained with him were later freed. His lawyer plans to appeal, former NLD lawyer Aung Thein said.

Four women activists were sentenced to two years each with hard labour on Monday, the same day Quintana arrived in Myanmar, for donating literature to a monastery.

The United Nations says there are at least 2,100 political prisoners languishing in Myanmar's notorious jails.

During his latest trip Quintana visited a jail in a northwestern town near the Bangladeshi border and also the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon, where Suu Kyi was kept while on trial last year.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and remains under heavy sanctions from western nations led by the United States, although Washington has recently tried out a policy of engagement with the military.


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