UN Envoy to Burma Calls for 'Immediate Release' of Aung San Suu Kyi

11 August 2009

Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. special envoy to Burma, during their meeting at the state guest house in Rangoon, Burma (2008 file)
Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. special envoy to Burma (2008 file photo)
The U.N.'s Special Advisor on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, says he is "extremely disappointed" with the outcome of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trial and called on Burmese authorities to release her immediately. After the verdict was announced on Tuesday, Gambari said he would continue to work for her freedom as well as that of hundreds of other Burmese political prisoners.

The verdict from the Burmese court was an additional three years in prison for democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But a short time later, the government announced that the country's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, had ordered the sentence commuted to 1 1/2 years under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi has already spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, mostly under house arrest.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his "deep disappointment" with the verdict and said he "strongly deplores" the decision.

His Special Advisor on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, told VOA in an exclusive interview that he too is extremely disappointed.

"We were hoping that (a) that the trial should not have commenced, three, that it would be discontinued and all charges dropped, and four, that she would be found 'not guilty'. All of these did not happen, so that's why we are extremely disappointed," he said.

Gambari said that during the secretary-general's visit last month to Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, Mr. Ban met with the country's senior leadership and asked them to free Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as well as take steps to enhance the political process leading to next year's elections as a gesture of their credibility to the international community.

"We have always offered this. If they were to help us help them, then the secretary-general would be in a position to go all out on the sanctions issue, humanitarian support, even reconstruction and development. It is a pity they did not follow our advice," he said.

The special envoy, who has made several trips to Burma, said that Tuesday's development is a setback. "We are pretty much back to what the situation was before the trial, where she is still under house arrest - although the conditions of her detention, house arrest, have been eased somewhat," he said.

Those new conditions include Aung San Suu Kyi being able to receive necessary medical treatment, to have guests visit her with permission from authorities, and to have the right to view two Burmese television stations (Myawaddy and MRTV) as well as read Burmese newspapers.

Gambari said the verdict can be appealed, and he is hopeful that Aung San Suu Kyi will be released unconditionally without further delay, so she can join the political process. "Of course, now we have appeal processes are still there. The prospect of amnesty is still not closed. We hope this will be exercised," he said.

The U.N. envoy said he would not give up on any fronts. "These are all part of the process of engagement with them, with the view of delivering on what is the objective - which is democratization of Myanmar and respect for human rights, and in effect restoring Myanmar to respectability as a member of the international community," he said.

Ibrahim Gambari said he is willing to return to Burma if the secretary-general asks him to, saying this is an on-going process.