UN envoy in Burma to urge junta to release Suu Kyi

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The Independent Online

A United Nations special envoy arrived in Burma yesterday to try to persuade the ruling junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader detained after a bloody attack on her convoy a week ago.

Razali Ismail embarked on his mission as new details emerged about the assault on her motorcade in a remote northern village, which the US State Department has blamed on "government-affiliated thugs".

Britain is among those who have demanded that the Burmese authorities allow him to have access to Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate.

She has been held incommunicado for almost a week, along with at least 19 other activists from her party, the National League for Democracy.

Yesterday, Amnesty International said more than 100 people have been reported missing since the incident, many of whom are thought to be badly injured.

So far, the authorities in Burma have barred diplomats from seeing her, arousing suspicion that she is being held until she recovers from head injuries received during the assault on her convoy.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said that a refusal by the military government to allow Mr Ismail to meet her would constitute a deliberate rebuff to the international community. "The Burmese authorities must recognise that there will be consequences," he said.

The UN envoy said he was planning a "strong bid" to secure the release of Ms Suu Kyi, although he admitted it was "in the hands of the government". He has considerable experience of handling the junta: in 2000, he brokered reconciliation talks between the government and Ms Suu Kyi, who was elected president in 1990 but has been blocked by the military from taking office. During this process, he helped persuade the generals to release her from house arrest in May 2002.

Mr Straw said there are "disturbing and credible reports" that the attack was "much worse than we were led to believe, in particular that the number of deaths was higher".The Burmese military has set the death toll at four, but some reports say it could be 75.