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Optimism as Burma adopts more open approach to UN

By David Usborne in New York

The special United Nations envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, said in New Delhi last night that he may be allowed to make a return visit to the country earlier than he had expected, perhaps as early as next week.

Mr Gambari voiced cautious optimism that international pressure on Burma following its crackdown on protests by thousands of Buddhist monks last month may be having an impact. The military regime also said this week it would allow the UN's human rights investigator to return.

"It may not produce immediate results," said Mr Gambari, who is on a tour of south-east Asian capitals to co-ordinate a regional response to the crisis in Burma. "But if you notice that step by step, the authorities have been responding to some of the issues that we left with them."

In London, however, leaders of the Burma Campaign denounced the Government, saying it had failed to respond to a call issued by a cross-party group of members of Parliament earlier this year for a significant bolstering of aid to the Burmese people.

In its original report, MPs on the International Development Committee called on the Department for International Development (DFID) to take numerous steps, including quadrupling aid by 2013, providing more cross-border aid and increasing funding for human rights projects.

The silence from DFID is "disgraceful and inexplicable," said acting director Mark Farmaner. "They have not changed their position on any key issues, no commitment on increasing aid, no cross-border aid, and no funding for pro-democracy work. They are ignoring the democratic process."

Mr Gambari has been pressing hard for a second visit to Burma since the explosion of protests and the brutal crackdown. Among his first goals is to persuade the regime to open direct talks with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Today is the 12th anniversary of her incarceration.

In signalling its interest in Mr Gambari returning and authorising a visit by the human rights investigator, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the regime may be hoping to avoid further condemnation when leaders of the Asean group of south-east Asian nations meet in Singapore next month.

Mr Pinheiro was barred in 2003. The change in stance was "an important sign that the government wants to engage again in constructive dialogue with the UN and the Human Rights Council," he said.

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