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U.N. envoy, Myanmar junta meet

Times Staff Writer

As the military tightened its grip on Myanmar, the United Nations envoy met today with the junta’s top generals to repeat international calls for restraint.

Ibrahim Gambari, a former foreign minister from Nigeria’s military in the mid-1980s, met Myanmar’s senior junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, in the country’s new capital, Naypyidaw, about 200 miles north of Yangon. Details of the meeting were not immediately released.

A U.N. statement earlier said Gambari “looks forward to meeting Senior Gen. Than Shwe and other relevant interlocutors before the conclusion of his mission.”

By forcing Gambari to cool his heels and wait for an audience, the junta’s leaders were maintaining their hard line against outside pressure, mastered during 45 years of ironfisted rule.

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They allowed Gambari to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an hour Sunday at a government guesthouse in Yangon, also known as Rangoon.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has lived under house arrest and other forms of detention, including solitary confinement, for 12 of the last 18 years.

She led the National League for Democracy to election victory in 1990, but the regime rejected the results and has ignored repeated demands that it restore democracy.

Opposition groups say the junta continues to round up democracy activists and has killed as many as 200 people, including at least 10 reportedly shot during street protests last week.

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Citing anonymous sources in Yangon, the Thailand-based Burmese newsmagazine the Irrawaddy said monks arrested for leading thousands of democracy protesters in the streets were being held in the notorious Insein Prison and nearby Government Technology Institute compound, in northern Yangon.

“A senior monk who was taken to Insein Prison by authorities to talk to the monks said they were stripped of their robes and are now wearing prison clothing,” the magazine reported.

“Some monks have already been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment by a specially convened court.”

Casualty figures and arrests cannot be independently verified because the regime has barred most foreign journalists from entering the country.

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The main sources of news during the violent crackdown have been “citizen journalists” who send video and reports over the Internet despite the regime’s attempts to sever Internet connections.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he believes the death toll is much higher than the number reported killed in street demonstrations.

Thousands of troops have poured into Yangon, the former capital, and into Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, in central Myanmar. They are reportedly searching cars and pedestrians for cameras and recording devices in an attempt to cut off information.

At the United Nations, Myanmar’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, said protests had been “exploited by political opportunists.” He warned against intervention in his nation’s affairs, including sanctions.

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“The current events clearly show that such a course of action can only result in conflict and untold suffering for the people of the country,” he said.

Condemnation of the Myanmar regime was mounting Monday, with Singapore joining the nations urging restraint. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong released a stern letter that he sent to Than Shwe on Saturday urging “utmost restraint.”

The letter is unusually strong for Singapore, which, like others in the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, is traditionally reluctant to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. But the letter points out that Myanmar’s confrontation will have “serious implications” for Myanmar and the whole region.

“The videos and photographs of what is happening on the streets of Yangon and other cities in Myanmar have evoked the revulsion of people throughout Southeast Asia and all over the world,” the letter says.

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Lee repeated ASEAN’s call for the release of Suu Kyi and for cooperation with Gambari.

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962. The opposition still refers to the country as Burma, the name recognized by the U.S. State Department.

Military leaders insist the crackdown is necessary to maintain order for the sake of “community peace” and “national development.”

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paul.watson@latimes.com

Times staff writer Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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