Senior U.N. official to visit Myanmar to urge reforms

A senior U.N. official is to visit Myanmar this week to urge the country's military rulers to respect human rights and restore democracy, diplomats said Tuesday. The three-day visit by Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, comes as the country faces mounting criticism for launching attacks against Karen ethnic minority groups and imposing travel restrictions on international aid groups.

Western and Asian diplomats said Gambari is expected to arrive Thursday and meet the country's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, at the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw, before leaving on Saturday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the country's restrictive political climate. Representatives at the U.N. office in Myanmar could not immediately be reached for confirmation of the visit.

It was unclear whether Gambari would also meet senior members of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party. The visit is the first by a senior U.N. official in at least two years. Myanmar's military junta took power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in general elections.

Suu Kyi has been detained for about 10 of the last 17 years, mostly under house arrest. The United Nations has been one of the louder voices calling for democratic reforms in Myanmar. In December, Gambari said the country's increasingly authoritarian military junta has denied its people essential human rights and created a humanitarian emergency, including food shortages and a rapid rise in HIV infections. The military junta responded by barring U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail and U.N. special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro from the country, reports the AP.