UN Secretary General invited to visit Burma

June 18, 2009 (DVB), Burma's ruling junta has invited UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit the country in early July, although Ban is thought to be wary of the visit being used as propaganda by the junta.

Western diplomats speaking under condition of anonymity said yesterday that Ban, who is yet to accept the invitation, is concerned the visit could be used to deflect mounting criticism over the trial of Burma's opposition leader.

"He doesn’t want his trip to be seen as giving any kind of legitimacy to the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi," one of the diplomats told Reuters.

But, said the diplomat, pressure from Ban could be the last chance to ensure the release of Suu Kyi.

"Ban can put pressure on them to let her go," he said. "We don’t have many options apart from the secretary general."

The UN chief said in May that he was keen to visit Burma "as soon as possible", particularly in light of the Suu Kyi trial, which he labeled "unacceptable".

Last week British campaigners demanded that the release of political prisoners be made a UN priority "before they die", following news that a number of high-profile detainees were in poor health.

And yesterday, a petition carrying nearly 680,000 signatures delivered to Ban Ki-moon further highlighted international dismay at the plight of Burma's political prisoners.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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