September 11, 2008 / 8:01 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. envoy in dark after snub by Myanmar's Suu Kyi

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy said on Thursday he has no idea why Myanmar’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to meet him last month.

A protester from Myanmar's National League for Democracy holds a portrait of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally demanding the release of Suu Kyi near the Myanmar Embassy in Seoul June 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari tried twice to meet the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest for most of the past five years, but she refused.

After briefing the U.N. Security Council on his sixth visit to push for reform in the former Burma, Gambari was asked why Suu Kyi had declined to see him.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know because this is not consistent with her previous relation to me,” he told reporters. “I’ve met with her seven times in all now.”

“We don’t know why she has refused to see anybody except her lawyer in the last few weeks. There may be a sense of frustration, of course, which we all share about the pace of change in the country.”

Suu Kyi’s snub of Gambari during his six-day visit fueled speculation she was fed up with the ruling junta’s treatment of the emissary and the lack of meaningful dialogue between her party and the junta.

So far, Gambari has had little to show for his efforts to get Myanmar’s leadership to include Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy in its plans to cede political control.

The party said this week that Suu Kyi was on a hunger strike to protest her detention and restrictions on visitors, but the junta denied it.

Some Western diplomats in New York have suggested privately that Suu Kyi’s snub of Gambari on his fourth visit since the junta cracked down on monk-led protests last September was a vote of no confidence in what they described as the United Nations’ soft approach to Myanmar.

However, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the junta.

He said the snub was a message of frustration about the slow pace of reforms in Myanmar that Suu Kyi was sending the international community.

“We need to understand the frustration that she, her supporters, her party, and indeed the people of Burma are feeling at the lack of progress there,” Sawers said. “Let’s listen to that and let’s reflect on that.”

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad suggested it was time for tougher measures. He accused the junta of defying international demands that it release Suu Kyi and other dissidents and begin taking steps toward democracy.

“The time has come to review what needs to be done to be more effective to bring about more progress with regard to these two objectives,” Khalilzad told reporters.

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