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February 16, 2009

UN official in Myanmar to assess human rights situation
A United Nations independent expert on human rights arrived in Myanmar Saturday for a six-day visit, UN and Burmese officials confirmed.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, arrived at 6.45pm local time.

"The main objectives of his visit are to assess the development of the situation of human rights since his previous mission last summer," the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.

Quintana will visit Karen state Sunday, UN officials confirmed, before returning to the main city Rangoon to visit the notorious Insein prison that holds hundreds of political activists.

The regime has handed out heavy jail terms to dozens of pro-democracy activists in recent months.

Quintana's visit comes a day after the opposition National League of Democracy (NLD) said two of its senior leaders had been jailed without being allowed a legal defence and another had seen his sentence extended.

NLD vice-chairman, 82-year-old Tin Oo, will remain under house arrest for at least another year, spokesman Nyan Win said, while leaders Nyipu and Tin Min Htut had been sent to Insein prison for 15 years each Friday.

"They were charged with three offences including the electronic act," Nyan Win told AFP, referring regmime's ban unauthorised use of computers.

Tin Oo was arrested with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003 after an attack on their motorcade during a political tour.

The NLD launched petition Thursday, the 62nd annniversary of Burmese Union Day, calling for the release of political prisoners including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo.

Nyan Win said he did not know yet if Quintana would meet the party.

"We hope to see him but we haven't been informed yet if we will," Nyan Win said.

The UN said Quintana would also visit the junta's remote capital, Naypyidaw, but was unlikely to meet senior leadership, although he would see chief justice Aung Toe.

No further details of the trip have been confirmed but the UN said Quintana would be discussing the implementation of recommendations he made on his previous visit.

These recommendations include reforms of legislation to ensure human rights protection, the release of political prisoners, independence for the judiciary and training on human rights for the army.

The visit also comes amid criticism by rights groups of the regime's treatment of minorities, in particular the Rohingya Muslims, who have been fleeing the repressive country by boat in large numbers.

Quintana's visit is expected to pave the way for a possible visit later in the year by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon after another visit by the UN's Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, last month.

Gambari met Aung San Suu Kyi but failed to secure a meeting with Burmese head of state Senior General Than Shwe.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 19 years under detention by the junta that has ruled the country since 1962.

Her NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990 that the junta refused to recognise.

The military regime has promised to hold elections in 2010, but critics have dismissed the polls as a sham.

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