Junta leader rejects UN chief’s request to see Suu Kyi

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) said he was "deeply disappointed" after his request to meet detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was denied by the ruling junta’s top general, Than Shwe (at right).


AFP - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply disappointed" after the chief of Myanmar's military junta on Saturday refused to let him meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban announced the regime's decision after holding a second meeting with reclusive military supremo Than Shwe in the bunker-like capital Naypyidaw on the second and final day of his visit to the country.

"I am deeply disappointed," Ban told reporters as he boarded a plane for Yangon. "It is a setback for the international community and it is a missed opportunity for the Myanmar authorities."

He said that Than Shwe had cited the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi is currently on trial as the reason for denying the visit. She faces up to five years in jail if convicted on charges of violating her house arrest.

The refusal will add fire to critics of Ban's visit to Myanmar, which had been considered diplomatically risky because of its timing during her trial and the likelihood that the ruling generals would fail to offer concessions.

Ban had pushed the iron-fisted Than Shwe on Friday to release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of elections promised by the ruling generals in 2010.

Rights groups had warned that his visit would be considered a major failure unless he managed to win her freedom.

Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was transferred from house arrest to Yangon's notorious Insein prison in May to face trial after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

The 64-year-old has been in detention for most of the past two decades since the junta refused to recognise her party's victory in the country's last elections in 1990.

Ban said on Friday that he had made a personal request to Than Shwe to be able to meet her.

"He told me that she is on trial but I told him this is my proposal, this is important and I am waiting for their consideration and reply," Ban said after Friday's encounter.

The UN chief is now due to visit areas affected by deadly Cyclone Nargis in 2008. He made his first visit to the country after the disaster, when he managed to persuade the regime to accept international aid.

Ban would also give an unprecedented public address to diplomatic missions, UN agencies, international and non-governmental organisations in Yangon before his departure on Saturday evening, officials said.

UN officials travelling with Ban said there had been a "very lively exchange of views" after Ban proposed a five-point agenda for reforms at Friday's meeting.

There was "considerable resistance" to the proposals, including the establishment of a UN "good offices" bureau in Yangon to provide a permanent structure for Ban and his special UN envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari.

Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in Yangon on Friday but the trial was adjourned for a week because the judges had not received an earlier judgement barring two defence witnesses, her National League for Democracy said.

Critics have accused the junta of using the trial to keep her locked up for the elections, although Ban said that Than Shwe assured him that the elections would be held in a "fair, free and transparent manner."

The case has sparked international outrage, with US President Barack Obama calling it a "show trial" and a host of world leaders and celebrities calling for her release.

Ban has faced recent criticism for his softly-softly approach to the job of secretary general, but diplomats say he hoped his quiet brand of diplomacy will pay dividends with Myanmar's generals.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.

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