Burma's junta 'is ready to turn a new page', says senior UN envoy

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The Independent Online

Burma's military junta appears ready to "turn a new page" and engage the international community after years of hostility, a top UN official has said.

Pressure from Burma's neighbours and members of the UN Security Council, as well as offers of new aid, have spurred a shift from the regime, Ibrahim Gambari, the UN's under-secretary general for political affairs, told reporters days after returning from a visit to the country.

Mr Gambari had rare access to senior leaders during his trip and was the first senior UN official to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader, in two years. He said that was a sign of a changed attitude from the junta.

"I would say that there appears to be a willingness to turn a new page in the country's relations with the international community," Mr Gambari said. The next step, he said, would be to get the UN team that's now in place in Burma to start talks with the junta about improved humanitarian access to tens of thousands of displaced people in the country's east, the fight against HIV/Aids, reconciliation with Ms Suu Kyi's political party, which has been shut down, and other issues.

Mr Gambari's comments were met with scepticism from the US Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based advocacy group. Jeremy Woodrum, the campaigns director, cited the government's offensive against the Karen ethnic group. "They have used Aung San Suu Kyi as a trump card to deflect international pressure," he said. "The UN Security Council must act now to stop these senseless attacks on innocent civilians."

Mr Gambari planned to brief the Security Council about his trip some time next week. That itself signified a change in the approach to Burma because China, which has close economic ties to the country, has opposed such briefings for the attention they bring. The under-secretary general said pressure from the Association of South-east Asian Nations had helped change the government's stance, as well as offers of some $100m (£54m) from the international community over five years to fight HIV and other diseases.

"Doors have been opened that were closed before," he said. "We'll try to widen those doors and get the UN country team to follow up."

Earlier on Wednesday, lawmakers from six of the Asean's 10 nations urged Burma to release Ms Suu Kyi and called on the Security Council to take "concrete steps to resolve the political deadlock, as well as the deteriorating social and economic conditions, in Burma".

The junta seized power in 1988. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in general elections.She has spent 10 of the past 17 years in detention.Her latest house arrest expires on 27 May.

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