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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Bridge-building mission to Burma
Burma soldiers
The Burmese military shows little sign of relinquishing power
By regional analyst Larry Jagan

The United Nations' special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, has arrived in Rangoon for talks aimed at encouraging dialogue between the military government and the opposition National League for Democracy.

It will be his first official visit since the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed him earlier this year after the resignation of his predecessor, Alvaro de Soto.

During the three-day visit Mr Razali will also be assessing the human rights situation in a country frequently the target of strong western criticism on the issue.

Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt
Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt controls much of the real power
The UN has been involved in trying to break the deadlock between Burma's military leaders and the pro-democracy opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi for more than 10 years.

But successive envoys to Burma, including a human rights rapporteur, have made little progress in getting the two sides to talk to each other.

The international community is now hoping that Mr Razali, a senior Malaysian diplomat and close confidant of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, may be able to produce some concrete changes.

Unlike his predecessor, Alvaro De Soto, the new envoy has been mandated to work solely on Burma.

Asian diplomat

Following his appointment in April, Burma's Foreign Minister, U Win Aung, remarked cautiously that as an Asian, Mr Razali ought to understand more about the region than did his predecessor.

Aung San Suu Kyi
The UN envoy is expected to hold talks with Aung San Suu Kyi
Many Asian diplomats have also welcomed his appointment, hoping that Dr Mahathir's support may help Burma's Generals recognise the need for democratic change in the country.

According to diplomatic sources in Rangoon, Mr Razali's visit is being seen as a fact-finding and exposure trip.

He is expected to meet Burma's head of State, General Than Shwe and the military intelligence chief Lt General Khin Nyunt as well as Aung San Suu Kyi.

Malaysian sources close to Mr Razali said he wanted his visit to be a low-key affair and wasn't going to make his itinerary public.

Developing trust

They said Mr Razali hoped to make frequent visits to Rangoon in future and try to develop trust on both sides through regular contact.

Burma's 1990 election
The 1990 election result stunned the military
The Association of South-East Asian Nations is also anxious to see Burma be more conciliatory towards the opposition leader.

It is keen to convince the generals that economic development and democracy go hand in hand.

However, Burma's military rulers have steadfastly refused to hand over power to a civilian government, even though the National League for Democracy convincingly won the national elections 10 years ago.

So far Burma's Generals have ignored Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD's frequent appeals for the military to enter a meaningful dialogue on the country's political future.

Western and Asian diplomats alike are hoping that the Malaysian envoy may have more success than his predecessors have had.

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See also:

27 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Suu Kyi demands power handover
25 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma anniversary galvanises opposition
27 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma warns opponents
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma clamps down on web
08 Aug 98 | Burma
Special report: Burma
15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
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19 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma military 'seeks democracy'
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