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Myanmar: After talks, UN hopes for better ties

After concluding high-level talks in Myanmar, UN official hopes for better ties

Ibrahim Gambari
24 May 2006 – After two years of isolation, the Myanmar Government seems willing to engage in a dialogue with the international community, a senior United Nations official just back from three days of talks with the country’s top officials said today.

“They want to open up another chapter of relationship with the international community,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari told a news conference at the world body’s Headquarters in New York after returning from a three-day visit to Myanmar.

During the course of his trip, Mr. Gambari met a number of senior government officials, including General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, and opposition leader Dawn Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for several years, as well as members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Mr. Gambari, who was sent to Myanmar by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan as his special emissary, said the purpose of his visit was to examine “what more can be done to move Myanmar towards democracy, sustainable development and national reconciliation.”

Noting that it was the first high-level contact between Government leaders in Myanmar and the UN in the past two years, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said he was hopeful about the outcome of his visit. “It’s important to engage with Myanmar. I believe that I am in a better position now than before,” he said, adding that both the Government and the NLD appeared to be in agreement that the UN has a role to play.

Despite voicing optimism about the possibility of improved relations between Myanmar and the UN, he cautioned against hasty conclusions. “The doors have been opened,” he said about the Government’s willingness to have a dialogue. “But we have to see. This engagement is a process, not an event. ”

Mr. Gambari said he delivered to Gen. Shwe a formal letter written by the Secretary General before his visit to Myanmar. Focused on concerns over the human rights situation and democratization, the letter sought improvement in Myanmar’s relations with the international community and stressed the need for political process to be “more inclusive and credible.” It also called for lifting of restrictions on political opposition in the country and the release of all political detainees, including Ms. Suu Kyi.

During his talks with the government officials, Mr. Gambari said he reiterated the world body’s concerns over the escalating military offensives against the civilian population and urged the Government to fully collaborate with UN agencies to address issues such as HIV/AIDS, drug trafficking, the plight of displaced persons and the use of child soldiers.

The senior UN official also called on the Government to provide the UN staff with “safety and unhindered” access to areas in need of humanitarian aid.

In response to a question, Mr. Gambari described Ms. Suu Kyi as a “very determined and principled lady, who believes that she has a contribution to make to the development of her country and that her party also has a contribution to make.”

“We believe we agree with her,” he said, voicing hope that the authorities would provide her and the NLD opportunities to take part constructively in the political process.

Both the Government and NLD leaders, according to Mr. Gambari, have sent messages to the Secretary General.

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