August 7, 2008 / 5:47 PM / 11 years ago

UN rights envoy meets Myanmar political prisoners


YANGON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - The new United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar met five prominent political prisoners on his first trip to the military-ruled Southeast Asian country, the envoy said on Thursday.

But a statement from Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana did not say whether he had met detained opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest continuously for the past five years, and on-and-off for nearly 13 of the past 19 years.

However Ojea’s statement, issued in Yangon at the end of a four-day visit, said he had met representatives of Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD).

The former Burma’s military rulers are generally impervious to outside pressure, but have allowed in U.N. representatives since they crushed pro-democracy protests last September.

But the reclusive junta has only given grudging access to foreign aid workers after the devastating cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Delta in early May.

Ojea, who expressed his appreciation to the authorities for their cooperation during his visit, said he had held constructive meetings with the foreign, labour and home affairs ministries, as well as the chief of police.

Ojea, whose own parents were political prisoners under a military regime in Argentina, met five of the best known political prisoners in Yangon’s notorious Insein jail, where he said he was able to talk to them in private.

They included Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner, U Win Tin, aged 79, an NLD leader who was arrested in 1989 and is serving a 20-year sentence for anti-government propaganda.

He also met young labour activists Thurein Aung and Kyaw Kyaw, jailed in September last year for 28 and 20 years respectively for helping organise a workers’ rights seminar, and labour activist Su Su Nway, arrested in November last year after the pro-democracy protests.

The fifth prisoner Ojea met was U Gambira, a leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance that helped spearhead the protests.

Ojea, whose official title is Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, will report on his visit to the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly.

He said he had discussed with the authorities the possibility of a second mission to Myanmar, which has been under military rule for 46 years, before he reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March next year. (Writing by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Robert Hart)



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