updated 11/2/2007 11:20:14 PM ET 2007-11-03T03:20:14

Myanmar’s military government ordered the expulsion of the top U.N. diplomat in the country on Friday in response to the envoy’s criticism of the regime.

The move came a day before U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was to return to Myanmar to continue promoting reconciliation between the junta and the country’s pro-democracy movement, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States condemned the expulsion of U.N. Resident Coordinator Charles Petrie.

“This outrageous action ... is an insult to the United Nations and the international community,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

The junta gave a note to foreign diplomats and U.N. representatives that accused Petrie of going beyond his duties and “expressed the government’s intention not to continue his assignment here,” United Nations Information Center spokesman Aye Win said from Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.

Diplomat's office raps junta
Petrie, like other U.N. officials and diplomats, serves in Myanmar only with the consent of its government and was not expected to stay without an invitation.

His office said on Oct. 24 that Myanmar’s government was not meeting the economic and humanitarian needs of its people, and that that was the cause of September’s mass pro-democracy protests, which were violently put down by the government.

“The concerns of the people have been clearly expressed through the recent peaceful demonstrations, and it is beholden on all to listen,” the office said.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to openly breach protocol, said the note made clear that the government no longer wants Petrie to continue serving in Myanmar, but did not say what it intended to do about it.

The note was delivered after a briefing on the economy for the diplomats in the country’s capital Naypyitaw.

Ban 'disappointed' by expulsion
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “is disappointed by the message from the government of Myanmar,” spokeswoman Michele Montas said at U.N. headquarters in New York. “The secretary-general has full confidence in the United Nations country team and its leadership and appreciates their contribution to the improvement of the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions for the people of Myanmar.”

Some U.N. agencies are critical of the regime, especially the International Labor Organization. which accuses it of using forced labor. But other agencies have been a lonely voice in promoting aid to Myanmar, especially humanitarian and anti-narcotics assistance.

The U.S. and other Western countries shun the junta for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government. They maintain diplomatic and economic sanctions against the regime, and also block assistance from multilateral aid agencies such as the World Bank.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said: “I hope that this is not an effort by the regime to deflect from the mission of Mr. Gambari ... We need a genuine reconciliation process started, and for Mr. Gambari to have a role in that process.”

Ban sent Gambari to Myanmar after the government crackdown on peaceful protesters in late September, and he met earlier this month with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe. He also met twice with detained pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi.

Soon after he left, the government appointed a liaison minister for talks with Suu Kyi, under a U.N.-brokered attempt by Gambari to nudge her and the military junta toward reconciliation.

The new minister and Suu Kyi met last week, which Gambari welcomed, but called it “only the first step,” saying it “should lead to early resumption of talks that will lead to tangible results.”

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