- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar | U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could leave Myanmar empty-handed after apparently failing to win any concessions Friday from the country’s top military ruler or to gain permission to visit opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in jail.

Mr. Ban talked for two hours with reclusive Senior Gen. Than Shwe in an ornate reception hall — complete with an indoor waterfall — in Naypyitaw, the junta’s remote, newly built capital.

It was a rocky start to what the U.N. chief predicted would be “a very tough mission” to win freedom for Mrs. Suu Kyi, the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been detained by the junta for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, She currently is being tried on a charge of violating the terms of her house arrest.

The U.N. chief was to press again Saturday in another private meeting, a U.N. spokeswoman said. He also was to continue to seek various other reforms that include democratization, fair elections, economic cooperation and freedom for Mrs. Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

Mr. Ban emerged from Friday’s meeting saying he still hoped to meet Mrs. Suu Kyi before he leaves the country Saturday night.

“I told him that I wanted to meet her, but he told me that she is [on] trial,” Mr. Ban told reporters after meeting with Senior Gen. Than Shwe. “But I told him that this is my proposal, and this is important, and I’m waiting for their reply.”

It was Mr. Ban’s second visit to Myanmar since Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the country last year. His first visit managed to persuade the military government to ease access for hundreds of foreign aid workers who had been restricted from entering cyclone-affected areas. He also oversaw a conference that raised up to $150 million in emergency relief funds.

However, the U.N. has been unable to budge the junta on its refusal to free its estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Mr. Ban also met with leaders of 34 political parties, including senior members of Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, U.N. officials said.

Shortly after the U.N. chief arrived Friday, the court presiding over Mrs. Suu Kyi’s widely criticized trial announced an adjournment until July 10. The trial had been set to resume after a monthlong delay.

In May, she was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She pleaded not guilty. She faces five years in prison if convicted.

The trial sparked outrage from world leaders, other Nobel laureates, human rights groups and Hollywood celebrities who say the military-controlled government is using the bizarre incident as an excuse to keep Mrs. Suu Kyi behind bars through elections scheduled for 2010.

Mrs. Suu Kyi’s opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar’s generals refused to relinquish power. Her latest six-year term of house arrest was to expire last month.


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