UN leader in latest top level Myanmar visit

29th April 2012, Comments 0 comments

UN chief Ban Ki-moon made his first trip to Myanmar under a new reformist regime on Sunday to encourage further progress amid a flurry of top-level visitors to the former pariah state.

Ban, who last week said Myanmar's transition had reached "a critical moment", is due to meet Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time and speak in the country's fledgling parliament during his three-day trip.

His is the latest in a string of high-level international visits amid a thaw in the army-dominated nation's relations with Western nations, which have begun rolling back sanctions against Myanmar to reward political changes.

The UN Secretary General, who has been to the country twice before, last visited Myanmar when the junta was in power in 2009 but was not allowed to see the Nobel laureate.

Suu Kyi on Sunday said that Myanmar was "looking to a better future" and expressed the hope for more "sustainable reforms" during a press conference following talks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

"I do not think that you can say that this process is irreversible," she said, but added that "all those who are in the position of power including the army is formally behind it".

Ban, who has said he would discuss ways the United Nations could help the country, travelled to Naypyidaw late Sunday and is set to hold talks with President Thein Sein on Monday.

He is then due to give an address to the country's parliament -- the first by a visiting foreign dignitary.

The landmark speech would have been witnessed by Suu Kyi, who won a parliamentary seat in April 1 by-elections, but the democracy campaigner has shunned the legislature in a dispute over the swearing-in oath.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has said it will not swear to "safeguard" an army-created constitution, in the first sign of tension with the government since the by-elections.

Ban is now set to meet Suu Kyi in Yangon on Tuesday.

Myanmar, which languished for decades under a repressive junta, has undergone dramatic changes since a controversial 2010 election brought a civilian government to power -- albeit one with close links to the military.

Thein Sein, a former army general, has ushered through a broad range of changes since coming to power last year, including welcoming Suu Kyi's party into the political mainstream and freeing political prisoners.

Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton is also in the country following the recent suspension of European Union sanctions.

Ashton on Saturday opened a new EU office in Yangon that will mostly oversee the management of aid programmes but also have a political role, in a first step towards establishing a full diplomatic mission.

The European Union has responded to what it said were "historic changes" by suspending for one year a wide range of trade, economic and individual sanctions, although it left intact an arms embargo.

Germany's Westerwelle said his visit to Myanmar on Sunday was to support "political change".

Other foreign dignitaries, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have visited Myanmar since the quasi-civilian government took power last year.

Canada also recently suspended most sanctions and Japan waived $3.7 billion of Myanmar's debt.

But the United States on Wednesday ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Myanmar, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the regime on an end to ethnic violence and other key issues.

© 2012 AFP

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