UN envoy able to do little in Myanmar

BANGKOK: A visit by a UN rights envoy to Myanmar has yielded little progress ahead of elections, experts say, in the latest setback for the world body’s efforts in the military-ruled nation.

Making his third trip to Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana had his request to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi turned down and said he was given no information about the polls promised for this year.

Myanmar authorities also continued to lock up dissidents during his stay, gave no sign that it would free Suu Kyi, and even denied there were any “prisoners of conscience” in the country.

“It clearly hasn’t gone well,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Myanmar expert for the London-based rights group Amnesty International. “Despite the fact that the government has claimed that cooperation with the UN is a cornerstone of its foreign policy, it’s quite clear it’s not.”

The UN’s efforts to foster democratic reform in Myanmar have met with little apparent success, with secretary

general Ban Ki-moon also being refused access to Suu Kyi,

the world’s only Nobel Peace

laureate still in detention. Quintana, who was appointed in 2008, left Myanmar after a five-day visit on Friday with a parting shot for the regime, saying that he “deeply regretted” its denial of a meeting with Suu Kyi.

“I am disappointed that even this time I was unable to meet her at this crucial time in this election year, the first national election in 20 years,” Quintana said. The UN rights envoy was also refused access to reclusive junta chief Than Shwe and instead met Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Home Affairs minister Maung Oo the chief justice, attorney general and police chief.

But he was allowed to meet some political detainees during visits to the country’s prisons, and called for their release before elections, which analysts predict will be held towards the end of the year.

“It’s good for Mr Quintana to get in to see some prisoners

and see how bleak things are,

but that doesn’t mean any of them are going to be released any time soon,” said David Mathieson, Myanmar expert for Human Rights Watch.

Myanmar authorities refuse to allow any international organisations access to its prisoners. The United Nations says there are at least 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar’s jails.

Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years. She had her house arrest extended by 18 months in August and is effectively barred from standing in the upcoming elections.