UN chief to urge reform in Burma

July 2, 2009 (DVB), Ban Ki-moon will pressure the military government in Burma to release all political prisoners and pave the way for democratic elections next year during a visit that observers are considering highly risky.

The UN Secretary General arrives in Burma tomorrow for what many see as a make or break visit, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi due to resume her court trial the same day.

Ban has said he will urge the release of all political prisoners in Burma and press the junta to make elections next year free and fair, points that he will raise "in the strongest possible terms."

A UN spokesperson in Rangoon said that the itinerary of the trip was still being worked out, but that the Secretary General "will see all the political actors during his visit", although no-one has confirmed whether a meeting with Suu Kyi will go ahead.

Members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, who claim they will meet with Ban during the trip, have voiced concern however that little will come up this most senior of diplomatic visits.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have argued that the trip could be used for propaganda by the regime.

"There is a real danger that Burma’s generals will try to use Ban’s visit to legitimise the 2010 elections," HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told Reuters.

"If no commitments for reform are made, Ban should clearly and publicly state that a process that mocks the very idea of fundamental freedoms and democracy will have no legitimacy."

Earlier this week an appeal to allow two of Suu Kyi's witnesses to testify in her defence, following their disqualification in May, was rejected.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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