UN special envoy arrives in Myanmar for more talks

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Myanmar Thursday for a new round of talks with the ruling junta aimed at forcing it to include opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the national reconciliation process. ( dpa )

It was Gambari's third visit to the isolated, military-run state since last September's brutal army crackdown on protests in the streets of Yangon that left at least 31 people dead.

The UN special envoy for Myanmar affairs was driven to a hotel in Yangon, Myanmar's former capital. It is expected that he will eventually fly to Nyapyitaw, the military's new capital, situated about 350 kilometres north of Yangon, to hold talks with the junta.

Gambari has sought to force Myanmar's ruling junta to open a political dialogue with Nobel peace prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003, and with other representatives of Myanmar society, to forge a national reconciliation process that is acceptable to the international community.

His efforts, however, have been pre-empted by military supremo Senior General Than Shwe's announcement last month that he will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May this year, to be followed by a general election in 2010, according to analysts.

The two steps are part of the junta's so-called "road map" to democracy, a long and winding path that has already taken 14 years just to draft a new constitution.

The new constitution, drawn up by a military-appointed body, will enshrine the military's political role in any future elected government.

A general election, now scheduled at an unknown date in 2010, would put an end once and for all to the legitimate claims to power by Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party that won the 1990 general election by a landslide.

It is anticipated that Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, will be barred from contesting the 2010 polls, as she is prevented from doing so by the new constitution that stipulated that anyone married to a foreigner is ineligible to run for public office.

Suu Kyi was married to the late Michael Aris, a history professor at Oxford University.

Western democracies such as the US and European Union are still pressuring Myanmar's military to include Suu Kyi in the reconcilation process.

"The future of that regime is bleak, so they should try to respond," Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, told a seminar last week in Bangkok.

Since 1962, Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime that has earned itself one of the world's worst human rights records after two brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy movements in 1988 and more recently in September 2007. It has arrested thousands of political dissidents including Suu Kyi.

The senior diplomat warned that the US would continue to put diplomatic pressure on Myanmar, also called Burma, including sanctions, until a legitimate solution to the country's problems is found.

"So let's see if the Burmese authorities understand that we have a have a lot of options for dealing with Burma, but we do not have the option of turning our backs and forgetting the problem," said Hill.

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