Saturday, October 6, 2007

Envoy to Myanmar Briefs U.N.

Published: October 6, 2007

Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

A group of monks at the United Nations today, where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the use of force to put down protests in Myanmar was “abhorrent.”

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 5 — Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that the use of force to put down peaceful protests in Myanmar was “abhorrent and unacceptable” and that the government of the country must release those it has arrested and start a dialogue with political opponents.

Mr. Ban made his remarks to the Security Council before his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, reported on his four-day emergency trip to the country this week. Mr. Gambari was dispatched after the junta ruling Myanmar began a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks and those who joined them in recent protests against the government.

Speaking to the Council this morning, Mr. Gambari said that there were “continuing and disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security and nonuniformed elements, particularly at night during curfew, including raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances.”

He also said there were unconfirmed reports that the number of casualties was “much higher” than the dozen deaths that the military confirmed.

On Thursday, the junta made its first acknowledgment of the mass arrests, and said it still held about 1,400 people.

People reached by telephone in Yangon said the streets had a look of normalcy Friday, as if nothing had happened. But a foreign aid worker there said the nights were a time of terror as people were dragged from their homes as part of a continuing wave of arrests.

At the United Nations, Mr. Ban said: “While I am relieved to hear of reports that some military forces have been withdrawn and that some restrictions have been eased, the overall situation still remains of serious concern, especially with regard to the unknown predicament of the large number of individuals who were arrested without due process.”

He called for their release “without further delay.” He added: “Now more than ever before, the government of Myanmar should take bold actions toward democratization and respect for human rights.”

He also said that a “united Security Council could play an important supporting role in the ongoing efforts of the United Nations.”

While the Council has been united in its support of Mr. Gambari’s mission, China, which borders Myanmar and is one of its few allies and trading partners, has argued that the crisis does not constitute the kind of threat to international peace and security that calls for the involvement of the Council.

After Mr. Gambari spoke, Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador, sai:

“It is quite understandable for the outside world to express concern and expectation regarding the situation on the ground. However, pressure would not serve any purpose or would lead to confrontation or even the loss of dialogue and cooperation between Myanmar and the international community, including the United Nations.”

“If the situation in Myanmar takes a worse turn because of external intervention,” he warned, “it would be the people of Myanmar who will bear the brunt.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, said that the crisis in Myanmar was clearly having effect beyond its borders because it was “closely tied” to the flight of refugees, the growth in the trafficking of drugs and people and the spread of infectious diseases.

Countering China’s claim that pressure could undermine cooperation, he said: “For engagement to be productive, pressure has to be applied, to incentivize the regime to cooperate. The two are complementary rather than the view expressed that they are in conflict or contention.”

He said that if the government does not take constructive action “in a timely manner,” the United States would introduce a resolution in the Security Council imposing sanctions on the country. “It is time for the Council to do more than simply listen to a briefing,” he said.

He also said that the offer by the senior general, Than Shwe, to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader held under house arrest, came with “unrealistic conditions.”

According to state television, the ruling general told Mr. Gambari that he would see her only if she gave up promoting four activities, which it identified as “confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions on Myanmar, other sanctions.”

In his report to the Council, Mr. Gambari appeared to take issue with the argument, put forward by China, that the repression of anti-government protests was a “basically internal” matter.

“What happens inside Myanmar can have serious international repercussions,” Mr. Gambari said.

He added, “No country can afford to act in isolation from the standards by which all members of the international community are held.”

Mr. Gambari said he had been able to “deliver clear and strong messages” at the highest levels of the Myanmar government that it must cease night raids and arrests, lift curfews, release all people detained during the protests, withdraw the military from the streets and “put an immediate end to raids on monasteries.”

He said it “remains unclear how responsive the authorities will be to these messages.”

Warren Hoge reported from the United Nations and Seth Mydans from Bangkok.