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UN Chief To Visit Myanmar Later This Week

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that he would travel to Myanmar later this week to encourage the new civilian government there to make more progress toward implementing pro-democracy reforms.

"I have accepted an invitation from President Thein Shein to visit Myanmar. I will depart at the end of this week," Ban told reporters at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, adding that his Myanmar trip would follow an official visit to India.

"We have seen encouraging political and economic reforms over the past year and a half. The recent elections were a landmark. We see Myanmar reopening to the world. Myanmar is only at the beginning of its transition. Many challenges lie ahead. Many concerns have yet to be addressed. Yet I am convinced that we have an unprecedented opportunity to help the country advance toward a better future," he said.

Noting that Myanmar is currently at a "critical moment" in its transition, Ban said he believed it was now time for the international community to "stand together at Myanmar's side." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that "this fresh start is still fragile."

Ban said he looked forward to meeting President Thein Shein and Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit, and added: "Working together, they have come far. Working together, I am confident that they will go further still. And together, we will explore the many tangible and practical ways in which the U.N. can help."

Ban's planned trip to Myanmar would be the third for him since he became U.N. Secretary-General in 1997. But it is first since the country launched its recent democratic reforms, including the recent landmark by-elections and important steps toward reconciliation.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, had secured 40 of the 45 seats contested in the by-elections. Suu Kyi herself was overwhelmingly elected from the rural township of Kawhmu. Nevertheless, the Army and its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) still dominate the 664-seat bi-cameral Parliament with about 80 percent seats.

The NLD had secured a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, but could not assume power as the ruling military junta refused to recognize the poll results. Suu Kyi herself was under house-arrest for most of the past 20 years.

Although the NLD had boycotted the November 2010 polls that were dubbed as an eyewash by the international community, it later decided to rejoin mainstream politics and was subsequently allowed to contest the by-polls.

Western powers, including the United States, Britain, EU and Australia, have softened their approach toward Myanmar in recent months and eased some of their sanctions imposed on the previous military junta in the wake of reforms initiated by the new civilian government.

Myanmar, previously known as Burma, had earlier been slapped with several rounds of sanctions by Western nations, mostly over continued detention of political prisoners and suppression of pro-democracy protests by the military junta.

Since taking power in March 2011, the new government led by President Thein Sein has released thousands of prisoners. Those freed included journalists, government critics as well as pro-democracy and Opposition activists, jailed by the military regime. The government also implemented several reforms demanded by the Opposition and the international community.

by RTT Staff Writer

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