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UN Envoy Expects to Return to Burma Soon

By Stephanie Ho
Beijing
19 February 2008

The United Nations Secretary-General's special adviser for Burma says he expects to return to the country "sooner rather than later." VOA's Stephanie Ho reports.

U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari says he is optimistic he will be able to return to Burma, "way before April."

"You will recall the authorities there said they will receive me after the middle of April, after April 15," Gambari said. "But I think I have reason to believe they are reconsidering."

On Tuesday, Gambari completed two days of meetings with Chinese officials. He says he consulted with Chinese officials on how best to move forward in encouraging political reform in Burma.

"The Chinese government has been helpful in helping on my access, including encouraging the (Burmese) authorities to receive me as often as possible," Gambari said.

Gambari last visited Burma in November, several weeks after the military government crushed mass demonstrations calling for democracy and political reform.

He says the Burmese government's new plans for a May referendum on a new constitution, and for general elections in 2010 are "a significant step" toward democratic reform.

But he calls on the ruling generals to make sure the referendum is credible for the Burmese people and the international community. That would include, he says, releasing political prisoners, such as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent years under house arrest. In addition, he says, the government needs to allow the public and the opposition to freely comment about the draft constitution.

Many critics say the referendum and election will do little to bring reform to the country, as it appears the draft constitution allows the military to retain significant control.

The military has ruled Burma since the early 1960s. It has become one of the poorest and most isolated countries in Asia. The United States, the European Union and other nations have imposed economic sanctions on the government, to push the military to allow democratic reforms.

Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors, along with China and India, however, have argued that political engagement and trade are better than sanctions in bringing reform.

The U.N. envoy next travels to Indonesia, Singapore and Japan to discuss Burma.

At a regular briefing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told reporters Beijing wants to see democracy, peace and stability in Burma, but opposes the use of economic sanctions to pressure the government.



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