Sat 29 Sep 2007
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari flew into Myanmar on Saturday carrying worldwide hopes he can persuade its ruling generals to use negotiations instead of guns to end mass protests against 45 years of military rule.
“He’s the best hope we have. He is trusted on both sides,” Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said. “If he fails, then the situation can become quite dreadful.”
Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, made no comment on arrival in Yangon as he went straight onto a flight to the generals’ new capital, Naypyidaw, 240 miles to the north.
Before heading to Yangon, Gambari said in Singapore he was going “to deliver a message from the secretary-general to the leadership, a message that is very much by the Security Council”.
“I look forward to a very fruitful visit so that I can report progress on all fronts,” Channel News Asia quoted him as saying.
Asked if he expected to meet detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Gambari said: “I expect to meet all the people that I need to meet.”
So far, the junta appears to have ignored international clamor for a peaceful end to their crackdown on a mass uprising led by monks, the moral core of the Buddhist nation, which grew from small protests against shock fuel price rises in August.
Troops and riot police manned barricades on Saturday in the area from which the pro-democracy protests have reverberated around the world. Small groups gathered to taunt and curse them before scattering down alleys when they started to charge.
Such cat-and-mouse sparring between the crowds, which would re-emerge at different points, and security forces lasted several hours on Friday.
The junta says it is acting with restraint.
In practice, that has meant firing at crowds, raiding a dozen Yangon monasteries thought to be at the vanguard of the protests, detaining hundreds of monks and sealing off two pagodas marking the start and end points of the mass protests.
So far, it appears to be working.
FEW MONKS SEEN
“Peace and stability has been restored,” state-run newspapers declared on Saturday. Security forces had handled the protests “with care, using the least possible force”, they said.
Monks were scarcely seen on Friday or Saturday in crowds facing off against security forces around the barricades in a city terrified of a repeat of 1988, when the army killed an estimated 3,000 people in crushing a nationwide uprising.
Their monasteries surrounded by soldiers, few monks went out on the daily alms collection on which they depend for food, residents said. Many young monks had evaded arrest by casting off their maroon robes and pretending to be laymen.
The scene was similar in the second city of Mandalay, home to many of Myanmar’s more than 400,000 monks, where troops surrounded major monasteries, a Chinese official said.
“Basically the situation is quiet. Armed police are stationed along major streets and at intersections,” he said.
In the northwestern coastal town of Sittwe, one resident said many younger monks had been forced to go back to their home towns. The only security officials on the streets were police, he said.
“Now in Sittwe very quiet. No more demonstrations, everything disperse,” he said. “No more fighting here.”
Monks have reported six of their brethren killed since the army started cracking down on Wednesday to end mass protests by columns of monks flanked by supporters who filled five city blocks.
State-run media said 10 people had been killed since the crackdown began and prompted international outrage.
Among the dead was a Japanese journalist whose death, apparently at the hands of a soldier firing at point-blank range, was caught on video seen around the world.
“I am afraid we believe the loss of life is far greater than is being reported,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Friday after talking to U.S. President George W. Bush.
Bush and Brown discussed the need to maintain international pressure on Myanmar’s rulers and the White House condemned the present crackdown as “barbaric”.
Bush authorized new U.S. sanctions against the junta, which has been operating under similar restrictions for years and turns a deaf ear to any criticism of how it handles dissidents.
The European Union summoned Myanmar’s senior diplomat in Brussels and warned him of tighter sanctions.
EU experts looked into possible restrictions on exports from Myanmar of timber, precious metals and gems, but reached no decisions, one diplomat said. Investments by specific Europeans in the country were not raised, he said.
Activist Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign U.K. called the EU sanctions “pathetic”. He said a freeze on assets had netted less than 7,000 euros across all 27 EU member states and many countries allowed their companies to do business in Myanmar.
China, the junta’s main ally, publicly called for restraint
for the first time on Thursday. But at the United Nations, China has ruled out supporting sanctions or a U.N. condemnation of the military government’s use of force.
However, Premier Wen Jiabao told Brown in a telephone conversation China would work with the international community to help bring about “an appropriate solution” to the Myanmar crisis, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Association of South East Asian Nations, which rarely criticizes one of its own, has expressed “revulsion” at the crackdown.