Naypyidaw (Myanmar): UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon began what he called a “very tough” mission to Myanmar on Friday, vowing to press the head of the ruling junta for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners.
Ban flew in to the military-ruled nation as a prison court adjourned the internationally condemned trial of the detained Nobel Peace laureate for another week.
He said he would urge reclusive regime leader Senior General Than Shwe during their meeting in the capital Naypyidaw later on Friday for permission to visit the 64-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi.
“It is a very tough mission,” the UN chief told reporters shortly after his arrival in the main city of Yangon on a commercial flight from Singapore.
“One of my objectives is to obtain the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said, adding that he was also going to “convey the concern of the international community” and press for reconciliation and democracy.
He then flew to Naypyidaw, the jungle capital purpose-built on the orders of Than Shwe in 2006, ahead of talks with the military supremo.
Rights groups warn that the trip will be a “huge failure” if he does not secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades in detention.
The pro-democracy icon was transferred from house arrest to Yangon’s notorious Insein prison in May for trial on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if convicted and critics have accused the junta of using the trial to keep her locked up for elections that the ruling generals have promised in 2010.
She appeared in court on Friday but the trial was adjourned for a week because the judges had not received an earlier judgement barring two defence witnesses, said Nyan Win, spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the trial this morning but the court said that as they haven’t got the case from the Supreme Court the trial is suspended to July 10,” Nyan Win, who is also part of her legal team, told AFP.
The case has sparked international outrage, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “show trial” and a host of world leaders and celebrities calling for her release.
Ban earlier made an apparent reference to concerns over the timing of his visit while her trial is still under way, saying he was aware that he was coming to Myanmar “under certain uncertainties.”
“I will try to meet with representatives of all registered political parties including Aung San Suu Kyi, that’s my hope. But I have to raise this issue with the senior general directly, in person,” he said in Singapore on Thursday.
As well as Than Shwe, Ban said he will also meet with Prime Minister Thein Sein and representatives of all registered political parties and former armed groups.
Ban has faced recent criticisms for his softly-softly approach to the job of secretary general, but diplomats say he is hoping his quiet brand of diplomacy will pay dividends with Myanmar’s generals.
The visit is Ban’s first to Myanmar since he persuaded the junta to accept international aid in the wake of devastating Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which killed around 138,000 people.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years since the junta refused to recognise the NLD’s landslide victory in Myanmar’s last elections, in 1990.
Human Rights Watch said Ban should not accept the apparent concession from the junta of returning her to house arrest, instead of imprisoning her, as a sign of a successful visit.
“Time and again, the UN has politely requested Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, but her ‘release´ back to house arrest would be a huge failure,” Kenneth Roth, New York-based HRW’s executive director, said in a statement.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.