UN chief to visit Myanmar to encourage reforms

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 23, 2012 7:06 PM
UN chief to visit Myanmar to encourage reforms

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Monday he would visit Myanmar soon to encourage the Southeast Asian nation to press ahead with democratic reforms.

"I have accepted an invitation from President Thein Shein to visit Myanmar," Ban told reporters. "I will depart at the end of this week."

"We have seen encouraging political and economic reforms over the past year and a half," he said. "The recent elections were a landmark. We see Myanmar reopening to the world."

U.N. officials said Ban would arrive in Myanmar at the weekend and stay for several days.

Ban welcomed the decisions by the United States, European Union and others to begin easing sanctions against the country previously known as Burma, though he cautioned that the country's "fresh start is still fragile."

The European Union agreed on Monday to suspend most of its sanctions against Myanmar for a year, despite a dispute over a parliamentary oath between the army-backed ruling party and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the first clear sign of friction since Suu Kyi's party swept historic by-elections, the ruling party on Monday rejected her demand to replace the words "safeguard the constitution" with "respect the constitution" in the oath.

Asked about the oath dispute, Ban said that he hoped government and opposition would be able to resolve it.

Ban has visited Myanmar twice in the past. His upcoming visit is his first since the country launched its recent democratic reforms.

Thein Sein's reforms implemented over the past year include the freeing hundreds of political prisoners, allowing more media freedom, reforming the currency and holding peace talks with ethnic minority rebels.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Brunnstrom)