Page last updated at 01:15 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 02:15 UK

Burma opposition lauds UN visit

By Brenda Marshall
BBC News

Aung San Suu Kyi and Ibrahim Gambari (March 2008)
Mr Gambari met Aung San Suu Kyi in March but not key military leaders

Burma's National League for Democracy has said it hopes a visit by the UN's special envoy will revive talks between its detained leader and the government.

Ibrahim Gambari will begin a five-day visit on Monday - his fourth since widespread pro-democracy protests were crushed by the military last September.

Talks between a senior junta official and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi began in October 2007 but ended in January.

Ms Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest in Rangoon.

She led the NLD to a landslide victory in elections in 1990, but the party has never been allowed to take office by Burma's military rulers.

Lack of progress

Mr Gambari, who aims to promote democratic reform in Burma, is likely to be hoping for a more successful visit than his last one in March, which he described as disappointing.

He did not meet Burma's reclusive military leader, Gen Than Shwe, and his offer of international observers for a referendum on a new constitution was rebuffed.

General Than Shwe casts his vote, 10 May
The generals were criticised for holding the referendum during a national crisis

The vote went ahead in May despite the humanitarian crisis caused by Cyclone Nargis, which is believed to have killed 130,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless.

The generals eventually allowed in foreign aid, but ignored international concern over the continued detention of Ms Suu Kyi. Instead, they extended her period of house arrest.

Since then, Burma has faced increasing criticism from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) for its lack of progress towards democratic change.

But in the past week, Ms Suu Kyi has been allowed to have a medical check up, and has met her lawyer twice to discuss an appeal against her continued detention.

However, for each small step forward in Burma there is a step backwards.

Just days before Mr Gambari's visit, a court jailed five activists for taking part in a peaceful demonstration marking the 20th anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

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