YANGON (Reuters) - The U.N.’s new human rights envoy to Myanmar started his first mission to the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation on Monday, four days before the 20th anniversary of brutally crushed democracy protests.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, whose own parents were political prisoners under a military regime in Argentina, arrived in the former Burma late on Sunday and is due to stay until Thursday, eve of the “8-8-88” uprising anniversary.
He is expected to meet a number of government officials as well as opposition politicians and leaders of some of Myanmar’s many ethnic minority groups.
It is not clear whether he see 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.
“The Special Rapporteur wishes to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities with a view to improving the human rights situation of people of Myanmar,” the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council said in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether he will make any headway in a country that has been ruled by a succession of uncompromising military dictators for the past 46 years.
Last week, the junta charged popular comedian and leading dissident Zarganar with public order offences that could see him jailed for up to two years, a lawyer said.
Shortly after his appointment, Ojea Quintana described the arrest of Zarganar for helping coordinate relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis as part of continuing, serious human rights violations.
The junta is keeping a particularly tight grip on public life at the moment as the 20th anniversary of the nationwide democracy protests approaches — also the start of the Olympic Games in China, Myanmar’s main commercial and diplomatic backer.
The uprising was crushed by the army with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives. Dissidents who fled the crackdown are hoping the milestone will trigger another uprising, although analysts and diplomats say that is very unlikely.
According to the United Nations, more than 1,100 people are behind bars in Myanmar because of their political or religious beliefs.
Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by David Fogarty