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23 May 2024

UN envoy meets with Myanmar democracy leaders

By Agencies

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari met on Saturday with senior leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party, after Myanmar's ruling junta refused to include them in its election process.


Gambari held talks for about one hour with the National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders, although the junta has yet to confirm whether he will be allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi herself.


The Nobel peace prize winner has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, and the envoy has been allowed to meet her on his two previous visits.


Party leaders dodged reporters after the talks, which came one day after a blunt refusal by the junta to give the NLD a role in a constitutional referendum planned for May and multi-party elections set for 2010.


If held, the elections would be the first since Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 polls, a result never recognised by the regime.


The new constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from future elections because of her marriage to a foreigner, the late Briton Michael Aris.


A new law governing the referendum also sharply limits her party's ability to campaign, criminalising public speeches and leaflets about the vote.


Western countries have decried Myanmar's vote plans for failing to include the NLD, and Gambari arrived here on Thursday on a mission to press the regime to open up the process.


Information minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan told Gambari during more than two hours of talks on Friday that the junta would not make any changes to the proposed charter.


"The constitution has already been drafted and it should not be amended again," said Kyaw Hsan, whose lengthy comments were reported in detail by state media.


The minister also accused of Gambari of bias in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi, blasting him for releasing a letter from her after his last visit here in November.


"We are very astonished and dismayed for your involvement in this matter," Kyaw Hsan said in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper.


"Sadly, you went beyond your mandate. Hence, the majority of people are criticizing it as a biased act. Some even believe that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.


"The statement was dangerous to the degree of hurting the prevailing peace and stability of the nation," the minister said.


He also added that if Gambari tried to force the country to meet Western calls for reform, "we are concerned that your task of offering impartial advice may be undermined".


The comments appeared to dash any hopes that the regime would make concessions in its election plan.


The NLD has warned that the public would not accept the junta's new charter, but has stopped short of calling for a boycott or urging a "no" vote.


Gambari has tried to open a dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime following the government's violent crackdown in September on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks, which left at least 31 dead, according to the United Nations.


His initial efforts seemed promising, as the regime sought to ease international outrage over the bloodshed.


After his first mission, the junta appointed a liaison officer to meet Aung San Suu Kyi while military supremo Senior General Than Shwe made a heavily conditioned offer to meet her himself.


But Than Shwe shunned Gambari on his last visit here, and he has given no sign that he plans to meet with the envoy during his current visit.


Even the talks with the liaison officer have dragged, with Aung San Suu Kyi saying in January that she was "not satisfied" with their progress. (AFP)