Senior UN official arrives in Myanmar

The U.N.'s top political official arrived in Myanmar on Thursday for talks with the ruling junta on human rights and the prospects for restoring democracy.

The visit by Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari is the first in more than two years by a high-level U.N. representative. It comes as the junta faces mounting international criticism for launching a large-scale military offensive against members of the Karen ethnic minority.

There are also serious concerns over the government's imposition of domestic travel restrictions on international aid groups.

During a three-day stay, Gambari will also meet representatives of political parties, including detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, according to a statement issued by the United Nations.

Gambari will be accommodated at the government guest house and is scheduled to meet the country's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, at the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw, on Saturday.

The United Nations has been one of the louder voices calling for democratic reforms in Myanmar, while the junta has responded by barring U.N. special envoys from the country.

In December, Gambari said the junta has denied its people essential human rights and created a humanitarian emergency, including food shortages and a rapid rise in HIV infections.

U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan views the visit "as an overdue and potentially important opportunity to assess developments in the country firsthand, ... to help Myanmar move in the direction of all-inclusive democracy, sustainable development and true national reconciliation," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier this week, reports the AP.

I.L.