UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma

June 30, 2009 (DVB), The UN Secretary General will visit Burma next week with the issue of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, high on the agenda when he meets with senior government officials in the capital.

It will be the first trip to Burma by Ban Ki-moon since he made an emergency visit in the wake of cyclone Nargis last May.

It follows a two-day visit by UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari, which ended on Sunday and was widely believed to have been a preparatory exercise prior to Ban's arrival.

The UN chief was reportedly briefed by Gambari on Sunday following his trip, and decided then to go ahead with it.

He had initially expressed concern over whether to accept the invitation or not, wary that the Burmese government might use the trip for propaganda purposes.

Various campaign groups, including Human Rights Watch, had warned that the trip might lend legitimacy to the government.

His spokesperson, Michele Montas, told reporters yesterday that the issue of political prisoners, as well as the scheduled 2010 elections and the resumption of dialogue between the government and opposition factions "cannot be left unaddressed at this juncture of the country's political process".

He will also aim to continue UN efforts on aid to victims of the cyclone, amid reports today that aid workers are struggling to get visas to enter Burma.

"The Secretary General believes that the sooner these issues are addressed, the earlier Myanmar will be able to move towards peace, democracy and prosperity," Montas said.

"He looks forward to meeting all key stakeholders to discuss what further assistance the United Nations can offer to that end."

The two-day trip, set for Friday and Saturday, comes at a sensitive time, with the trial of Suu Kyi now in its seventh week and evidence of strengthening ties between Burma and North Korea, who were last month subject to toughened UN sanctions.

It is unclear whether the latter issue will be raised during the UN chief's visit.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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