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January 27, 2009

UN sending envoy to Myanmar again

TheUnited Nations special envoy to Myanmar will be returning soon to pursue a dialogue between the country's military rulers and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi but details are still being worked out, the Associated Press quoted UN as saying Monday.

UN deputy spokesman Marie Okabe said she could not confirm reports from Yangon that quoted a diplomat as saying Dr Ibrahim Gambari would visit Myanmar on January 31. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the news had not yet been officially announced.

'I can confirm that the secretary-general has asked Gambari to return soon and the Myanmar government has extended an invitation for him to visit the country,' Okabe said.

'At this point, however, discussions are ongoing about the details of the visit.'

Dr Gambari will be visiting Myanmar in the wake of a judicial crackdown during which government courts handed down harsh prison sentences to scores of pro-democracy activists. It will be his first visit in five months, and his seventh since he began his assignment in mid-2006.

Ban has expressed frustration at the failure of Myanmar's military government to open its political process and urged the junta to take 'tangible steps' to include opponents like Ms Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

Asked about Mr Ban's expectations for Dr Gambari's visit, Okabe said, 'the secretary-general has expressed his expectation that more progress is necessary on issues which Gambari raised with the government on his last visit'.

She said these include especially 'the need for dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi, and he has therefore asked Dr Gambari to return to continue his discussions and engage with the Myanmar government, opposition and other stakeholders'.

The country's pro-democracy movement has been disappointed by Dr Gambari's previous visits, which have failed to secure the release of Ms Suu Kyi from more than 13 years under house arrest.

During Dr Gambari's last visit in August, Suu Kyi refused to meet him, and he also failed to be received by junta chief Senior Gen Than Shwe.

Nonetheless, the coming visit was welcomed by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

'I believe the special envoy's visit this time will be beneficial as the envoy and the NLD share the same principles on achieving political reform in the country,' party spokesman Nyan Win said on Friday.

During Dr Gambari's visit, Nyan Win said his party will discuss the arrests and sentencing of more than 300 NLD members and other political prisoners last year.

The current junta came to power in 1988 after violently crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

It called elections in 1990 but refused to honour the results after Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory.

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