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New U.N. rights envoy starts mission in Myanmar

4/08/2008 - 7:50

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 politicalprisoners under a military regime in Argentina, arrived in theformer 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 aswell as opposition politicians and leaders of some of Myanmar'smany ethnic minority groups.

It is not clear whether he see detained opposition leaderand Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been inprison or under house arrest continuously for the past fiveyears, and on-and-off for nearly 13 of the past 19 years.

"The Special Rapporteur wishes to engage in a constructivedialogue with the authorities with a view to improving thehuman rights situation of people of Myanmar," the Geneva-basedU.N. Human Rights Council said in a statement.

It remains to be seen whether he will make any headway in acountry that has been ruled by a succession of uncompromisingmilitary dictators for the past 46 years.

Last week, the junta charged popular comedian and leadingdissident Zarganar with public order offences that could seehim jailed for up to two years, a lawyer said.

Shortly after his appointment, Ojea Quintana described thearrest of Zarganar for helping coordinate relief supplies tovictims of Cyclone Nargis as part of continuing, serious humanrights violations.

The junta is keeping a particularly tight grip on publiclife at the moment as the 20th anniversary of the nationwidedemocracy protests approaches -- also the start of the OlympicGames in China, Myanmar's main commercial and diplomaticbacker.

The uprising was crushed by the army with the loss of anestimated 3,000 lives. Dissidents who fled the crackdown arehoping the milestone will trigger another uprising, althoughanalysts and diplomats say that is very unlikely.

According to the United Nations, more than 1,100 people arebehind bars in Myanmar because of their political or religiousbeliefs.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editingby David Fogarty)