Officials: UN envoy in Myanmar

YANGON: A U.N. special envoy arrived Friday in Myanmar to pave the way for a possible visit by the U.N. secretary-general that would be politically delicate because of the continuing trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Human Rights Watch and some governments have urged U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon not to visit now, arguing the trip could be exploited by the government. The Nobel Peace laureate is in prison and being tried on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest after an uninvited American man swam to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and stayed two days.

But other countries say the alternative is to do nothing and miss an opportunity to have the U.N. chief press for Suu Kyi's release and push for more open and inclusive elections next year.

Details of Ibrahim Gambari's visit have not been disclosed. After arriving in Yangon, the commercial capital, he was driven to his hotel ahead of a trip later in the day to the capital of Naypyitaw to meet government officials, an official said on condition of anonymity.

A Western diplomat said Gambari would "prepare the visit of his boss."

Both men spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release information to the press.

It is Gambari's eighth visit the U.N. chief's special representative to promote political reconciliation between the military government and the pro-democracy movement led by Suu Kyi.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Thursday in New York that Gambari will report to the secretary-general on his Myanmar visit before Ban leaves for a trip to Japan on Monday.

Ban told The Associated Press earlier this week that he was looking at the "appropriate timing" for a visit.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party said it would welcome a meeting with Gambari. "I believe his visit will help ease the current political situation in the country," party spokesman Nyan Win said.

Another awkward factor is the possible delivery to Myanmar of weapons aboard a ship from North Korea, in defiance of U.N. sanctions. Although neither North Korean nor Myanmar authorities have confirmed such activity, U.S. and South Korean officials suspect that the Kang Nam is carrying weapons for Myanmar's military, and its arrival could coincide with Ban's visit.

The U.N. has called repeatedly for political reconciliation in Myanmar, including the release of Suu Kyi. The country has been under military rule since 1962, and the junta refused to recognize the results of 1990 general elections won by Suu Kyi's party.

Suu Kyi's trial has drawn outrage from the international community and from her local supporters, who say the military government is using the incident as an excuse to keep her detained through the 2010 elections.

Gambari's seven trips since becoming the special envoy in 2006 have failed to nudge the military regime toward talks with the opposition.

But Ban's visit to Myanmar after last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis was hailed as instrumental to getting the isolated government to admit more foreign relief workers.