Myanmar junta stalls UN chief's Suu Kyi visit

NAYPIYDAW: UN chief Ban Ki-moon said today the head of Myanmar's junta had stalled on his request to see Aung San Suu Kyi, leaving his mission to seek the democracy icon's release at risk of ending in failure. Ban said military chief Than Shwe had not yet given him permission to see the 64-year-old opposition icon but added that he awaited a final reply before his "very tough" two-day visit ends on Saturday.

The UN secretary general flew to Naypyidaw, the regime's remote stronghold, shortly after a prison court again adjourned the widely condemned trial of Aung San Suu Kyi on charges of violating her house arrest.

"I told him that I wanted to meet her in person. He told me that she is on trial but I told him this is my proposal, this is important and I am waiting for their consideration and reply," Ban told reporters after the talks.

"I am leaving tomorrow, so logically speaking I am waiting for a reply before my departure," he added.

Than Shwe appeared in his olive green military uniform at the start of the two-hour meeting in an ornate marble-floored reception hall, but did not speak.

Ban said he had also sought the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners that the UN says are held in Myanmar, including Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010.

"I proposed and I urged that all political prisoners should be released before this election begins, so that this election can be all inclusive," Ban said.

The 64-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi was transferred from house arrest to Yangon's notorious Insein prison in May on charges of violating her house arrest, after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

She has been in detention for most of the past two decades since the junta refused to recognise her party's victory in the country's last elections in 1990, and now faces five years' imprisonment if convicted.

Rights groups warn that the trip will be a "huge failure" if he does not secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Critics have accused the junta of using the trial to keep her locked up for the elections.