Sun 30 Sep 2007
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari met detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday but had not held talks yet with the head of the junta on ending a bloody crackdown on protests against 45 years of military rule.
“He looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, before the conclusion of his mission,” the United Nations said in a statement.
It gave no indication of when Gambari might meet Than Shwe, who operates out of Naypyidaw, the new capital carved out of the jungle 240 miles north of Yangon, and whose government rarely shows signs of heeding pressure from outside.
Gambari met Suu Kyi for more than an hour at a Yangon government guest house near the lakeside villa where she is confined without a telephone and requiring official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.
They met after Gambari flew back from Naypyidaw where he met acting Prime Minister Thein Sein, Culture Minister Khin Aung Nyint and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan — all generals — shortly after his arrival on Saturday, the diplomats said.
There was no immediate word on whether he has made any progress in ending the crackdown on the biggest anti-junta protests in nearly 20 years by arresting hundreds of monks, barricading off central Yangon and putting troops on the streets.
“Everybody is putting their hopes on Ibrahim Gambari, that he will solve the problem,” one retired sailor in Yangon said. “We hope that he will put the generals under pressure, along with other political leaders.”
There were no visible crowds on Sunday in central Yangon, where security forces have squeezed the life out of the protests by barricading off the two major pagodas at their heart and keeping away the revered Buddhist monks who led them.
But troops and police were searching bags and people for cameras and the Internet, through which people have fed the world images of the protests and the crackdown, remained off line.
Soldiers were posted on nearly every street corner of the city of five million people and groups could not coalesce without attracting attention, witnesses said.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said at least 700 monks and 500 other people had been rounded up across the country.
The protests began with small marches against shock fuel price rises in mid-August, but intensified when soldiers firing over the heads of protesting monks caused the monasteries to mobilize.
In the last few days troops in Yangon were confining monks to their monasteries, people in the neighborhoods said.
The crackdown, in which soldiers shot into crowds, raided monasteries and hauled monks away in trucks, stirred up outrage from governments around the world.
The heavy-handed suppression even prompted criticism from China, the closest the junta has to an ally, and rare condemnation from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.
The generals habitually ignore outside pressure, but bowed to the international outcry to admit Gambari at short notice.
The government has admitted 10 people were killed on Wednesday, the first day of the crackdown, although western governments say the real toll is almost certainly much higher.
One Japanese video journalist was shot dead when troops opened fire on a crowd of chanting protesters, causing Tokyo to review the aid it gives to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, now under military rule for the last 45 years.
Adding to the pressure on the generals, a Japanese envoy arrived on Sunday to ensure a full investigation into the death of Kenji Nagai, 50.
Footage of his death appeared to show a soldier shooting him at point blank range as security forces began to clear central Yangon of protesters.
State-run media have proclaimed the restoration of peace and stability after security forces handled the protests “with care, using the least possible force”.
But there have been no signs yet that the generals were prepared to make concessions to the protesters and some to the contrary.
State television is publicizing marches around the country condemning the Yangon protests and officials say there will be more during Gambari’s visit.
Suu Kyi’s meeting with Gambari was a very rare excursion outside her home, but the second in little more than a week.
Since she was last detained in May 2003, her fellow countrymen have seen her just once — when she appeared at the gates of her lakeside villa to pay respects to monk allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.
Riot police stood between the monks and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the generals.
There has been no explanation, or repeat, of the incident.
(Additional reporting by Bangkok bureau and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo)