(AP) RANGOON — A top United Nations envoy arrives in Burma on Monday following the release from detention of the still-defiant deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party.
Envoy Tomas Ojea Quintanais expected to meet several key ministers in the country’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw and members of the opposition during his five-day visit. He is also to tour Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison and another prison in the northwestern state of Arakan (Rakhine).
Quintana said in a statement last week that it would be important to meet with political party leaders in the context of this year’s landmark elections, which he described as “a critical time” for the people of Burma. He requested a meeting with the Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, and will evaluate progress on human rights Burma.
The NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the party welcomed the UN envoy’s visit since gross human rights violations were continuing. “His visit won’t be able to totally address the human rights issue but the visit can certainly cover human rights abuses,” Nyan Win said.
Criticized by the international community for its human rights abuses, the regime on Saturday released 82-year-old Tin Oo, who helped found the National League for Democracy with Suu Kyi, after nearly seven years of prison and house arrest.
“I am not happy with my freedom. I am very sorry about my colleagues who are still serving time in prisons,” Tin Oo told reporters Sunday while praying for their early release at Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda.
Human rights groups say the junta holds some 2,100 political prisoners.
Tin Oo, a one-time defense minister, said he would continue to work for democracy, serving as vice chairman of the league and coordinating political activities with Suu Kyi and the party’s 20-member Central Executive Committee.
In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Tin Oo’s release and said he hoped it would promote “substantive dialogue” between the league and the government. He also urged the lifting of restrictions on Suu Kyi “without further delay” and the release of other political prisoners.
Tin Oo said he was “very hopeful” Suu Kyi would also soon be released, noting in 1995 he was released from an earlier stint in prison not long before Suu Kyi herself was set free.
Tin Oo said he would ask authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi, and thanked the United Nations, European Union and others for pressing for his release from detention, during which the junta tried to isolate him as much as possible. His telephone line was cut but he was allowed a radio.
“Thanks to the sweetness of the democratic media, I never lost touch with the world,” he said.
Suu Kyi herself has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. Her house arrest was extended in August by an additional 18 months, which would prevent her from taking part in the first national elections in 20 years. The government says the vote will be held in 2010.
Suu Kyi’s party won the last elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the military, which has ruled Burma since 1962, refused to cede power. Suu Kyi’s party has not yet decided whether to take part in the upcoming elections. Quintana said during the visit, his third to Burma, he would press for the release of political prisoners, review progress on reform within the armed forces and check on the revision of domestic laws to ensure compliance with international human rights standards.