Saturday, October 6, 2007

U.N. envoy warns Myanmar

By Claudia Parsons, UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) 06/10/2007 03:10

U.N. envoy warned Myanmar on Friday of international consequences from its brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters, and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party dismissed the junta's offer of talks as a surrender demand.
But China and the United States clashed over whether the international community should take any action through the U.N. Security Council, with Beijing insisting the crisis was an internal affair.
Ibrahim Gambari, addressing the Security Council after a four-day visit to Myanmar, called for the release of all political prisoners there and voiced concern at reports of continuing government abuses after last week's huge protests.
"Of great concern to the United Nations and the international community are the continuing and disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security and non-uniformed elements, particularly at night during curfew, including raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances," Gambari told the council.
He said the Myanmar government must recognize that its ruthless crackdown on Buddhist monk-led protests that grew to 100,000 strong in Yangon "can have serious international repercussions."
The United States said it would propose sanctions at the 15-member council if Myanmar did not "respond constructively" to international concerns, but success seemed unlikely with veto-wielding China firmly opposed to such action.
In a warning to the world body, Myanmar urged the United Nations to take no action that would harm its "good offices" role in defusing the crisis there.
The opposition in Yangon dismissed the junta's offer of talks with Suu Kyi as effectively asking her to abandon the campaign for democracy that has kept her in detention for 12 of the last 18 years.
"They are asking her to confess to offences that she has not committed," said Nyan Win, spokesman for the Nobel peace laureate's National League for Democracy, whose landslide election victory in 1990 was ignored by the generals.
Than Shwe, head of the latest junta in 45 unbroken years of military rule of the former Burma, set out his conditions for direct talks at a meeting with Gambari on Tuesday, state-run television said. It said Suu Kyi must abandon "confrontation", give up "obstructive measures" and support for sanctions and "utter devastation", a phrase it did not explain.
Nyan Win demanded Suu Kyi be allowed to respond in public.
People who applauded the protest marches could face two to five years in jail, said Win Min, who fled to Thailand in 1988 as the army crushed an uprising at the cost of around 3,000 lives. Leaders could face 20 years, he said.
The Norway-based opposition Democratic Voice of Burma quoted relatives as saying about 50 students who demonstrated in Mandalay had been sentenced to five years hard labour.
Gambari, addressing an open meeting of the Security Council whose audience included around a dozen Buddhist monks in robes, said there were unconfirmed reports that casualties were much higher than the handful reported by the government.
The junta says 10 people were killed in the crackdown on the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years, though Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.
Nevertheless, Gambari told reporters he saw a "window of opportunity" in possible talks between the government and Suu Kyi and he hoped to return to Myanmar before a scheduled date of mid-November.
He said a number of points "emerged by real consensus" in the council, including support for his efforts and resolve that Myanmar could not return to the "status quo" prevailing before recent pro-democracy protests.
"We can't go back to the situation before the recent crisis," he said.
Addressing the Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for "bold actions" by the military government toward democratization and respect for human rights.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya, however, reiterated Beijing's view that Myanmar posed no threat to international peace and security, a condition for Security Council action. China borders Myanmar and is one of the country's few allies and major trading partners.
Pressure, he said, "will not help address the problem but might lead to mistrust and confrontation".
Myanmar's U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe urged the world body not to take action in the Security Council and said many of those detained had now been released.
"To date ... a total of 2,095 people, including 722 monks, have been released," he said. "More releases will follow."
Despite China's opposition, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington was prepared to introduce a resolution in the Security Council imposing sanctions.
"We must all be prepared to consider measures such as arms embargoes," Khalilzad told the council.
Western diplomats said they would try to draft a statement next week that the whole council could approve.
In Washington, the United States called on the junta to talk to Suu Kyi without conditions and U.S. charge d'affaires Shari Villarosa went to the new capital, Naypyidaw, to urge it to begin a "meaningful dialogue" with opposition groups.
"It was not a terribly edifying meeting from our perspective," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that Villarosa's meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint produced no breakthroughs.
(Additional reporting by Carmel Crimmins in Bangkok)