Ban made little headway with Burmese leadersImage: AP
Ban in Burma
July 4, 2009
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he was "deeply disappointed" that Burma's ruling military junta had denied his request to meet detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Ban said, with his mission to Burma, he had hoped to rekindle a constructive dialogue with the country's reclusive leaders.
When he first arrived in Rangoon he seemed upbeat about his prospects, saying that "first and foremost," he was going "to argue for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi."
"I will ask for the early resumption of the political dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.
But then, the Burmese junta made Ban Ki-moon wait overnight for its reply to his request to visit imprisoned Suu Kyi in Rangoon. When it finally got around to telling Ban on Saturday, it snubbed the UN secretary-general, rejecting his wish.
Ban, instead, was given a meager 30-minute meeting with the regime's 76-year-old leader. Burma's top general, Than Shwe, told Ban that Suu Kyi was on trial and that the regime did not want to interfere with the judicial process.
Critics have dismissed her hearing as a show trial aimed at keeping her out of multi-party elections next year. Ban told reporters afterward that he felt the refusal was a mistake.
The junta initiated proceedings against the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, claiming she had breached the conditions of her house arrest when an American man swam a lake to make an uninvited visit in her home.
If found guilty, Suu Kyi could be jailed for up to five years. Critics say the trial aims to silence the charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy until after elections, due to be held in 2010.
The EU has imposed sanctions against Burma and Brussels has long called on Burmese authorities to release Suu Kyi, maintaining a lengthy list of sanctions on regime figures and companies linked to the military junta.
Ban calls for transparent elections
"I am deeply disappointed. I think they have missed a very important opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to commit to continuing reconciliation," he said.
After his meeting with Than Shwe, Ban gave a rare public speech in Rangoon outlining his vision for a democratic Burma. He told an audience of diplomats, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations that the military regime must free Aung San Suu Kyi and introduce key reforms for the good of the country.
He said that the upcoming election, promised for 2010 and the first to be held in 20 years, "must be inclusive, participatory and transparent, if it is to be credible."
Ban told the group that "neither peace nor development can thrive without democracy and respect for human rights…(and) the primary responsibility rests with the government."
The secretary-general emphasized that Burma was one of the signatories of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but added that "unfortunately, that commitment has not been matched in deed." Burma's human right record, he said, remained "a matter of grave concern."