Sunday, 9 March 2008

Money changers hit by drop in value of Thai currency

By Lawi Weng

March 8, 2008 - The value of the Thai currency having gone down has affected Burmese currency transfer of people and exchangers on the Thai-Burma border in Three Pagoda Pass , said a currency exchanger in Three Pagoda Pass.

The fluctuation has been caused by the unstable political situation in Thailand and the new government's link with the former Prime Minister who has come back home.

Many Thai businessmen do not want to keep a lot of money in their bank accounts and that is why the Thai currency rate has gone down, said a Thai businessman.

"I lost 700,000 kyat just in two days. So, I did not dare to buy Thai currency any more for exchange, said Than Lwin,” a money exchanger in Three Pagoda Pass.

The downward trend started on Monday and the price was one Thai baht for 36 kyat (in the black market). But yesterday the downward trend continued and it was one baht for 35 kyat.

This is the first time it has happened since 2007 explained Ma Yee, another currency exchanger in Sangkhlaburi. Normally, the ratio has been one baht to 36 kyat for a long time, she said.

The current Thai stock is inflated and it is causing difficulty for Burmese currency exchangers.

But, it has been good for Burmese businessmen, who export Thai goods to Burma. Thousands of Thai goods are exported to Burma every day through Mae Sot and Three Pagoda Pass.

Source: IMNA News

Brig-Gen Thein Zaw woos Christians in Northern Burma ahead of referendum

March 8, 2008 - The Burmese military junta has pulled out all stops to woo the Christian community in Kachin State in Northern Burma ahead of the referendum in May this year.

Brig-Gen Thein Zaw, the Minister of Communication, Post and Telegraph is on a trail blazing campaign to garner support for the referendum to approve the draft constitution, local church sources said.

Before noon today, Brig-Gen Thein Zaw visited seven Kachin churches in different areas of north of Myitkyina Township, the capital of Kachin State. There was tight security and he was escorted by soldiers of the Northern Command headquarters in the township, local eyewitnesses and church sources told KNG today.

The minister visited the Shwezet Kachin Baptist Church where over 150 local people gathered. During his 30-minute visit he said "They are a handful of people and they are less than a million who destabilize and aim to destroy our country by saying careless (random) words."

Source: Kachin News

Arakanese Historian Arrested in Sittwe

March 7, 2008 - Sittwe: An Arakanese historian and author was arrested by police earlier this week in Sittwe and released on the condition that he must come to the police station whenever he is wanted for questioning, said one of his students.

U Aung Hla Thein was arrested by police in a raid on his house in Kyaung Det Land ward in Sittwe in the early morning hours of Monday and was brought to the number two police station in Sittwe.

Once at the station, he was interrogated by police for about three hours and then released after agreeing to the authorities conditions.

The student said, "U Aung Hla is now free but the police seized his computer and many papers, including research papers about Arakanese history." There are no details on why the authorities arrested him and seized his computer and documents.

"Many people believe that the arrest of U Aung Hla Thein is related to the forthcoming referendum sponsored by the military government. Because there is a rumor in Sittwe that some intellectuals in Sittwe are preparing to oppose the referendum which is scheduled to be held in May 2008," the student added.

U Aung Hla Thein is just a scholar and is not involved in politics, but it is felt that the authorities suspect that he may agitate some intellectuals to oppose the referendum.

The student said, "Sara U Aung Hla Thein is now at his house, but he has not revealed anything about his arrest. It seems he is prohibited by the police force from saying anything of his arrest to other people."

It has also been learned that many scholars in Sittwe are now anxious about their security after police arrested and interrogated U Aung Hla Thein..

We Became Soldiers - [Beyond 1988— Reflections]

March 8, 2008

October 11, 1988: The novelty of finding ourselves in a new place with new people had hardly worn off when we began our new military life. It happened the day after our arrival at Thay Baw Boe, before we had even explored the area.

We were student-rebels who had traveled to the border to fight the Burmese military, and it was time to prepare for battle. But first, we had to become soldiers.

Our first day at the training camp began with breakfast, served to hundreds of new arrivals who were crammed into a small makeshift, open-air enclosure with bamboo tables set next to the Karen customs office.

By the time we arrived, there was a long queue. There were complaints, grumbles and impatient grunts; after a long wait, it turned out that the breakfast was badly prepared.

Full Article at:

Don’t Lose Control in the Golden Triangle

By Yeni
The Irrawaddy News

A surprise attack on a Chinese maritime police boat on the Mekong River late last month has put the transnational narcotics trade in the Golden Triangle back in the spotlight. It has also highlighted the failure of international efforts to control lawlessness in the region, where renegade militias and other armed groups based in a remote corner of Burma are demonstrating that they remain a law unto themselves.

Thai media reported that the Chinese boat was patrolling the river where it flows between Burma and Laos, under a regional cooperation scheme aimed at fighting drug trafficking. Later, a second boat carrying half a dozen people opened fire as it approached the Chinese vessel. The gang boarded the Chinese craft, shooting and stabbing some of the six police on board before jumping back onto their own vessel to escape.

The clash lasted about five minutes. Three Chinese police were seriously injured in the attack, and have been hospitalized in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai. According to Pakorn Pothichai, commander of the Thai Navy mission for the Mekong, the gang was believed to be working to protect a shipment of drugs. Sources in the area where the incident occurred suggested that a drug gang based in Burma and led by Naw Kham, who once served under the late drug lord Khun Sa as a member of the disbanded Mong Tai Army, was behind the attack.

Naw Kham’s gang is just one of five armed groups active in the area. The Burmese Army, the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army and a 2-3,000-strong militia known as the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), run by Lin Mingxian (more widely known as Sai Leun), also operate in a volatile region of Burma bordering Thailand, Laos and China.

The notorious Golden Triangle is no longer just a land of brightly colored poppy fields, opium-smoking hill tribes and heroin labs hidden in the jungle. A global US State Department report released last week said that poppy cultivation had indeed decreased in the area in 2006-7, but surveys by the United States and the United Nations found indications that drug gangs had replaced opium cultivation with the manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, such as amphetamine-type stimulants, crystal methamphetamine and Ketamine.

Observers have also noted that Burma’s sector of the Golden Triangle is producing not only narcotics, but is also heavily involved in the trade of other contraband—everything from endangered wildlife to cheap counterfeit pharmaceuticals and pirated CDs. It also plays host to a number of casinos catering to gamblers from neighboring countries.

At the governmental level, Burma is actively engaged with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand in efforts to control drug trafficking. Thailand has contributed over US $1.6 million to support an opium crop substitution and infrastructure project in southeastern Shan State. In 2007, Thailand assigned an officer from the Office of Narcotics Control Board to its mission in Rangoon. Burma-China cross border law enforcement cooperation has increased significantly, resulting in several successful operations and the handover of several Chinese fugitives who had fled to Burma.

The drugs, however, continue to flow across Burma’s borders in all directions. A sharp increase in the production and export of synthetic drugs has prompted some to start referring to the Golden Triangle as the “Ice Triangle.” According to a US report, drug gangs based in the Burma-China and Burma-Thailand border areas, many of whose members are ethnic Chinese, produce several hundred million methamphetamine tablets annually for markets in Thailand, China, and India, as well as for onward distribution beyond the region.

The recent attack on a Chinese police boat should alert all governments in the region to the need to boost their efforts against drug gangs. The governments need to show their serious commitment to preventing money laundering by major narco-trafficking groups in the region, as a means of controlling their networks and business.

At the same time, however, there need to be guarantees that the “war on drugs” will not turn into a killing spree, as it did in 2003, when former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra initiated a crackdown that left more than 2,500 people dead in a matter of weeks.

But any hopes that the authorities will exercise greater restraint in their handling of the problem in the future seem likely to meet with disappointment, after Thailand’s Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung expressed his indifference to the human cost of hard-line drug policies. “When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it,” he said.

If Thailand and other countries in the region continue take this approach to controlling the drug trade, there will be no lasting improvement in the situation.

The cost in baht and lost lives will be enormous, while drug gangs lurking on the other side of the Burmese border will remain, waiting for their chance to resume their nefarious business with complete impunity.

UN Myanmar Envoy Meets Suu Kyi

March 8, 2008, YANGON, Myanmar — The U.N. special envoy to promote political reconciliation in Myanmar met Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition party members Saturday, a day after being rebuffed by the country's military rulers.

Suu Kyi, who has been detained without trial for 12 of the past 18 years, was seen being driven from the residence where she is held under house arrest to the state guest house where Ibrahim Gambari was staying. Gambari, representing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was scheduled to hold talks with Suu Kyi, but details of their meeting were likely to be closely held.

The U.N. envoy earlier held talks with representatives of ethnic groups, non-governmental organizations and several political parties including executives of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

At their one-hour morning meeting with Gambari, five NLD leaders told him of their desire for an accelerated dialogue with the junta and the release of political prisoners, according to one of the party members present.

The United Nations holds a similar position, but the junta shows no sign of implementing either action. Myanmar has been in a political deadlock since the junta, which seized power in 1998, refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by Suu Kyi's party.

Gambari told the NLD executives that he would try his utmost to press their case, but also suggested that they should grab any opportunities offered by the junta, said the party official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The junta's top spokesman told Gambari at a Friday meeting that that the government had done enough to hold a dialogue with Suu Kyi, by appointing a ministerial level liaison officer for her and announcing that junta chairman Senior Gen. Than Shwe would be willing to meet her if she gave up her "confrontational attitude" and stopped calling for sanctions against the junta.

Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan told Gambari that Myanmar has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt stability of the country, state-controlled media reported.

Kyaw Hsan also expressed unhappiness with Gambari's trips to other countries in the region to seek their support for political reform in Myanmar.

Gambari arrived Thursday on his third trip to Myanmar since the junta's deadly crackdown on nonviolent pro-democracy protesters in September sparked a global outcry. The visit came amid growing concerns that the government is ignoring calls for political reform and is tightening its grip on power.

The junta said last month that it would hold a constitutional referendum in May and general elections in 2010 _ the first specific dates for steps in a previously announced "roadmap to democracy."

Dissidents, diplomats and human rights groups have dismissed the roadmap as a sham designed to allow the perpetuation of military rule.

"It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution which was drawn with the participation of delegates from all walks of life. The draft constitution will be adopted in accordance with the decision by the people in the May constitutional referendum," Kyaw Hsan was quoted telling Gambari on Friday.

Source: Fox News

Philippines urges Myanmar to reconsider rejection of poll observers

March 9, 2008, Manila -- Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Sunday urged Myanmar's junta to reconsider its rejection of a UN proposal to allow observers at its constitutional referendum planned for May.

In a statement, Arroyo said it was 'a sad day for democracy' and the South-east Asian region that Myanmar rejected the proposal made by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari in talks with election officials on Friday.

'A central pillar of democracy is a free and fair election,' she said. 'Outside observers are not a threat to any nation's sovereignty. Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength.

'It is not too late for the government of Myanmar to accept the proposal by the UN,' she added. 'It is a small but modest step towards democratization that is long over due in Myanmar.'

Myanmar, formerly called Burma, will hold a referendum on an unspecified date in May to endorse a controversial draft constitution compiled over the past 14 years by a military-appointed forum.

The proposed constitution enshrines the military's role as a powerful political force in any future elected government.

The date of the referendum will be announced 21 days prior to the event. It will be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of the ruling junta's 'seven step road map' to democracy.

Myanmar and the Philippines are both members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which has been criticized in the past for failing to put more pressure on the military-ruled country to hasten democratic reforms.

Myanmar's junta has rejected a United Nations suggestion that international observers

Yangon - Myanmar's junta has rejected a United Nations suggestion that international observers be allowed to observe the upcoming referendum on the country's new constitution scheduled in May this year, state media reports said Sunday.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari proposed that international observers be allowed to assure the referendum is free and fair in tlaks held Friday with Thaung Nyunt, who heads the Commission for Holding Referendum, reported The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece.

'Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the State sovereignty,' said the newspaper in a detailed reprint of the talks between Thaung Nyunt and Gambari.

'Besides, there were no instances of foreign observers monitoring the events like a referendum. In the referendums for the 1947 and 1974 constitutions also, there were no foreign observers,' the head of the referendum commission said.

Gambari reportedly countered that the observers did not need to be from abroad, a suggestion Thaung Nyunt promised he would 'bear it in mind.'

Myanmar will hold a referendum on an unspecified date in May to endorse a controversial draft constitution compiled over the past 14 years by a military-appointed forum that will enshrine the military's role as a powerful political force in any future elected government.

The date of the referendum will be announced 21 days prior to the event. It will be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of the ruling junta's 'seven step road map' to democracy.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, when former strongman Ne Win staged a coup that overthrew the elected government of U Nu, Myanmar's first and last elected prime minister since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1948.

A referendum held in 1974 to endorse Myanmar's previous constitution was a rigged affair, with 'yes' and 'no' boxes clearly marked to allow authorities to know how people had voted.

There are worries that the May referendum will be similarly manipulated, although Thaung Nyunt assured Gamabri, who arrived in Yangon on Thursday, that it would be carried out in accordance with international standards.

The refusal to allow international observers was deemed a second blow to Gambari's mission. Prior to his talks with the referendum holding committee, Myanmar Information Minister Kyaw Hsan informed Gambari that no amendments will be allowed to the draft constitution, which in its current form bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the polls.

The UN has urged the junta to allow Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the last election of 1990, be allowed to contest the 2010 polls.

But the draft constitution stipulates that no Myanmar national married to a foreigner is allowed to run for public office. Suu Kyi was married to the late Michael Aris, a British professor at Oxford university.

Gambari met with Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May, 2003, Saturday afternoon. The content of their discussion was not immediately known.

Shady Politics

By Nirmal Ghosh,
Thailand Corresponden

Latest US sanctions put spotlight on cosy ties between Myanmar junta and business tycoons of dubious reputation

March 9, 2008, BANGKOK - ONE muggy July afternoon in 1999, a convoy led by an off-road SUV with flashing red light and siren was seen making its way down the winding mountain road from Lashio, capital of the Shan state, to the central Myanmar plains bound for Mandalay.

The convoy carried heavily armed Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) soldiers, apparently for the benefit of the man in the second vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser.

The man was Mr Lo Hsing Han

That Mr Lo, at the time said by the United States authorities to be one of the kingpins of the heroin trade out of Myanmar's notorious Golden Triangle, was being provided minister-level security gives a clue to an intriguing story of living on the edge, networking in the highest places, the making of enormous wealth - and ultimately, the art of survival.

It also says much about Myanmar's Machiavellian politics and the intricate games played by the junta in power at Yangon and various armed ethnic minority groups in far-flung border provinces.

Mr Lo's name surfaced again late last month when the US Treasury Department placed financial sanctions on him, his son Steven Law, whose Burmese name is Tun Myint Naing, his Singaporean daughter-in-law Cecilia Ng, and their network of 10 companies in Singapore and four in Myanmar.

On Feb 26, US President George W. Bush said in a statement: 'As one element of our policy to promote a genuine democratic transition, the US maintains targeted sanctions that focus on the assets of regime members and their cronies who grow rich while Burma's people suffer under their misrule.

'The Department of the Treasury has applied financial sanctions against Steven Law, a regime crony also suspected of drug-trafficking activities, and his financial network.'

Mr Stuart Levey, under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement: 'Unless the ruling junta in Burma halts the violent oppression of its people, we will continue to target those like Steven Law who sustain it and who profit corruptly because of that support.'

The Treasury Department in its statement said that 'in addition to their support for the Burmese regime, Steven Law and Lo Hsing Han have a history of involvement in illicit activities. Lo, known as the 'Godfather of Heroin', has been one of the world's key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s. Law joined his father's drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma'.

The new sanctions were in addition to those already announced against 33 individuals and 11 entities, in the wake of the September 2007 crackdown on the 'saffron uprising' against the junta led by unarmed Buddhist monks.

The sanctions are one of the US' principal weapons deployed to undermine Myanmar's ruling generals.

Monopoly of the rich

WHILE many analysts agree that there is an obscene disparity between the country's few enormously wealthy tycoons and the rest of the population that barely manages on an average per capita income of less than US$1 (S$1.40) a day, there is also a counter-argument that the sanctions, while squeezing their targets, do little to shake the generals' hold.

Mr Law's companies, Asia World Co Ltd, Asia World Port Management, Asia World Industries Ltd and Asia World Light Ltd, as well as Golden Aaron Pte Ltd and another nine companies in Singapore reportedly managed by his wife Cecilia were named in the sanctions.

Mr Law is among a small group of Myanmar's richest businessmen, including Mr Tay Za who was covered by previous sanctions, who in the words of Mr Aung Din, director of the US Campaign for Burma, 'monopolise the country's economy by using their connections with the ruling generals'.

It has been reported that as many as eight of the junta's ministers were guests at Mr Law's wedding. Mr Law, however, keeps a relatively low profile and travels a lot between Singapore and Myanmar.

In the case of Mr Law's father, his alleged heroin empire appears to have morphed into a legitimate business empire through a series of twists and turns, including a long spell in a Rangoon jail.

Mr Lo is an ethnic Chinese from Kokang, a former Chinese state which eventually came under the British when they colonised Burma. It went on to become part of the Union of Burma, and a part of the Shan state at the country's independence in 1948.

Chiang Mai-based writer Bertil Lintner has chronicled the sagas of the heroin warlords and ethnic armies in his book, Burma In Revolt.

In an e-mail to The Sunday Times, Mr Lintner wrote: 'Mr Lo commanded the Kokang Ke Kwe Ye (KKY), a government-sponsored militia in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

'In exchange for fighting the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), he was, unofficially, permitted to trade in opium. When the KKY scheme was abandoned in 1972, he went underground and teamed up with the Shan State Army, but with conditions. Eventually the collaboration went sour.'

Mr Lo was arrested in a remote corner of Thailand's Mae Hong Son province in 1973 and extradited to Burma where he was sentenced to death for 'rebellion against the state' - not for opium trading, because he had been unofficially permitted to do that.

He was pardoned during a general amnesty in 1980 and allowed to set up a new 'home guard' force under a scheme called Pyi Thu Sit (people's militia).

He returned to Lashio and benefited enormously from the ceasefire agreement in 1989 between the former CPB forces in Kokang and the Burmese government, which he helped negotiate.

'He made a fortune from a number of business undertakings, including opium and heroin,' Mr Lintner said.

Low profile

NOT much else is known about Mr Lo. What is certain is that he is now in his 70s and lives a relatively low-profile life in Yangon, playing a lot of golf and travelling little.

His Asia World group made its fortune building roads in Myanmar, and today spans trading, manufacturing, real estate, construction, transportation, and imports and distribution.

It is part-owner of the landmark Trader's Hotel, a favourite with Singaporean tourists and a short walk from the Sule Pagoda where many of the biggest anti-junta demonstrations were held last September before they were broken up by soldiers and police in a bloody crackdown.

Asia World was also one of the contractors for the port of Yangon, and for the multimillion-dollar new capital Naypyidaw.

While Mr Lo has never been formally 'wanted' by the US government, he and others in similar positions have been under investigation many times.

In July 1997, then-US secretary of state Madeleine Albright said: 'Drug traffickers who once spent their days leading mule trains down jungle tracks are now leading lights in Burma's new market economy.

'We are increasingly concerned that Burma's drug traffickers, with official encouragement, are laundering their profits through Burmese banks and companies - some of which are joint ventures with foreign businesses.'

That perception remains the basis of the newest sanctions, which freeze bank accounts of the targeted individuals in the US, prohibit US citizens or entities from doing business with them - and make it impossible for them to obtain visas to the US.

Blacklisted businessman and Singaporean wife shunned publicity
Additional reporting by Diana Othman and Teo Cheng Wee

BOTH Myanmarese businessman Steven Law and his Singaporean wife Cecilia Ng Sor Hong should have made the Forbes list of who's who in the business world.

Instead, they keep a low profile, and perhaps for good reason.

Last month, the United States Treasury Department, in its bid to increase pressure on Myanmar over human rights abuses, slapped sanctions on a major conglomerate, Asia World, and 10 Singapore-based companies owned by Mr Law and his wife.

They include Golden Aaron, GA Ardmore, GA Capital, GA Foodstuffs, GA Land, GA Resort, GA Sentosa, GA Treasure, GA Whitehouse and SH Ng Trading.

Golden Aaron, which was started in 1995, clinched a deal in 2004 to explore the coast off Myanmar with the country's state-owned oil company and China's largest offshore oil and gas outfit.

Under the agreement, the three companies were to carry out oil and gas exploration in a 10,000 sq km area in Rakhine state in the south-west and a 15,534 sq km area in the gulf of Mottama off Tanintharyi in the far south.

According to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, the company has a paid-up capital of S$5 million.

US President George W. Bush said last month that the targeted sanctions 'focus on the assets of regime members and their cronies who grow rich while Burma's people suffer under their misrule'. Burma is the former name for Myanmar.

Mr Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), explained to The Sunday Times that if it did not sanction those companies, 'then Steven Law could sidestep the law by placing his assets into firms owned by his wife'. OFAC is an agency of the United States Treasury Department.

Mr Law, who also goes by his Burmese name Tun Myint Naing, is the son of Mr Lo Hsing Han - dubbed the 'Godfather of Heroin' by OFAC - and one of the wealthiest individuals in Myanmar. No photographs of his wife are available, and a check with high-society magazines here, The Peak and Prestige, drew a blank.

A freelance photographer, who wanted to be known only as Wong, told The Sunday Times that many 'rich and famous folks guard their privacy jealously'.

'I seem to remember the Laws being one of such who officially requested not to have their pictures taken or published,' he said.

Even friends and acquaintances know very little about the couple. They spoke to The Sunday Times only on the understanding that they are not identified, for fear that their businesses are affected or 'sanctioned'.

One acquaintance said Ms Ng, who was born in 1958, studied at Dunman Secondary School and Hwa Chong Junior College.

A check on the Internet found that she is the third daughter of Mr Ng Ah Khoon and Madam Hong Or Tew Chua. Attempts to contact Ms Ng or her parents at their home in Jansen Road have failed. There was no one at home each time The Sunday Times paid a visit.

Ms Ng married her college sweetheart, now a second-hand car dealer, and had three children by him. She divorced him and married Mr Law in 1995.

A businesswoman who used to play mahjong with her more than 20 years ago said she was 'friendly but kept a distance when it comes to her business of private affairs'.

'A group of us used to hang out socially but I haven't seen her since 1988. People change. I heard she had moved out of the country with her new husband,' she said.

Golden Aaron's office at Shenton House was shut when The Sunday Times visited it late last month. But its doors were open on another visit last Friday. The company sign on the glass door - listing Golden Aaron Pte Ltd, Kokang Singapore Pte Ltd and S H Ng Trading - had been taken down.

An employee said Ms Ng was out of the country. She would not say where she was or how long she had been out of Singapore.

The Sunday Times also visited Ms Ng's condominium home off Alexandra Road last Friday. No one was at home except for a cleaner, who said she cleaned the unit once a week.

She said Ms Ng was in Myanmar and that she spent most of her time there on business matters, returning to Singapore every one or two months.

The last time the cleaner saw her was during the Chinese New Year.

Aung San Suu Kyi debarred from contesting in the 2010 polls

Bangkok, 09 March, ( United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari met with detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday, after the military junta to make it clear that they would not allow her to contest polls scheduled for 2010.

Gambari arrived on Thursday on a mission to persuade the ruling regime to include Suu Kyi more in the reconciliation process.

According to state media reports, Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan told Gambari on Friday that Burmese regime had rejected a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the regime amends the new constitution to "ensure inclusiveness."

"The constitution has already been drafted and it should not be amended again," Kyaw Hsan said.

"Although we have opened the door for (a) 'win-win' situation, (the) NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are refusing to join hands," Kyaw Hsan said.

He urged the visiting envoy to support the junta's "seven step" road map and stop pursuing alternatives suggested by western democracies.

"We shall not accept any attempt to hinder or reverse the process of the seven-step road map. However, we will heartily welcome the positive suggestions of the UN to help implement the seven-step road map," Kyaw Hsan concluded.

Gambari reportedly promised to pass on the minister's "clarification" to the UN Secretary General.

In a letter dated February 19 to Burma's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe, the UN Secretary General called for an amendment to the current draft constitution that would drop a clause excluding all Burmese nationals married to foreigners from running for election.

Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003, was married to the late Michael Aris, a British professor at Oxford University.

The new constitution, drafted by a military-appointed forum, will be voted on in a referendum in May.

It is widely expected that the constitution will be approved by the referendum, which is expected to be manipulated.

The referendum is part of the regime's so-called "seven-step road map" to democracy that will culminate in a general election now scheduled in 2010.

In the meantime, Ibrahim Gambari on the third day of his latest visit to Burma, met yesterday in Yangon separately with representatives of the National League for Democracy and later with the detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The meeting between Ibrahim Gambari and Suu Kyi, took place at the Sein Le Kantha State House, lasted for an hour and a half, according to UN officials.

A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ms. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for over four years, and has spent more than 11 years in detention since the NLD and its allies won the 1990 election with over 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

Ibrahim Gambari also met separately with representatives of the Pa-O National Organization, the National Unity Party and the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA).

This is his third visit to Burma since the Government's crackdown on peaceful protesters last summer.

Source: Asian Tribune