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Suu Kyi meets UN envoy

©

Latest update : 2008-03-08

Myanmar's junta refused to accept foreign observers at a referendum set for May just hours after Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Saturday with visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

Myanmar's junta Saturday refused to accept foreign observers at a referendum set for May, further dimming any hopes for reforms to bring democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi into their elections plans.
  
The rejection came just hours after UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was allowed a rare meeting with the detained Nobel peace prize winner and top leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
  
Throughout Gambari's visit, the military has rebuffed international pressure to bring Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD into its election plans, while casting an accusing eye at UN efforts to mediate a dialogue between the two sides.
  
Gambari offered UN technical assistance and help with facilitating observers at the referendum planned when he met Friday with members of the commission tasked with organising the vote, according to state television.
  
Thaung Nyung, a member of the commission, rejected the offer, saying the referendum was a domestic affair.
  
"We have enough experience, but we take note of your offer," Thaung Nyung said, according to state television late Saturday.
  
"Holding the referendum on the constitution is within the country's sovereignty," he said. "For internal affairs in the past, we have never had observers from outside."
  
The commission answered few of Gambari's questions about the referendum and declined to give an exact date for the balloting.
  
They said only that the voting would take place on a single day and that tens of thousands of polling stations would be set up around the country, state television reported.
  
The information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, told Gambari on Friday that the junta would not make any changes to the constitution going into the referendum, and then accused the envoy of bias in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi.
  
State media gave no details of Gambari's talks with the democracy leader, but broadcast images of their meeting. She dressed in a traditional red longyi, and appeared serious in their conversations.
  
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, and is allowed little contact with the outside world. Her image, and even her name, rarely appears in official media.
  
The military surprised the world by announcing its election timeline one month ago, announcing the referendum which it says will pave the way for multiparty elections in 2010.
  
If held, the polls would be the first since Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 elections, 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 by 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 Thursday on a mission to press the regime to open up the process.
  
He began trying to open a dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime following the violent crackdown in September on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks, which left at least 31 dead, according to the United Nations.
  
But Kyaw Hsan accused him 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 criticising 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 comments cast further doubt on how much Gambari's mission could achieve, especially when the junta's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, has shown no willingness to meet with him.

Date created : 2008-03-08

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