U.N. envoy details mission to Myanmar

Times Staff Writer

united nations -- Despite his appeals during a recent visit to Myanmar, the military regime continues to arrest protesters in midnight raids, arbitrarily detain people and relocate monks outside the capital, U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari told the Security Council on Friday.

But he also said the government told him it had released more than 2,000 demonstrators and monks, and reduced the military presence on the streets.

Officials of the United Nations, which along with the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations is traditionally reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of countries, made unusually strong statements about Myanmar, also known as Burma. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea called the junta’s use of force to disperse protesters “abhorrent and unacceptable.”


During a four-day visit to Myanmar that ended Tuesday, Gambari pressed the senior junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, to stop the violent crackdown and release monks and other detainees. The envoy met with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice. But he also had to attend a pro-government rally and was denied access to other opposition leaders. He plans a return visit in November.

“It is too early to measure the impact of Mr. Gambari’s visit, or to label it a success or a failure,” Ban said. “It appears, however, that a window of opportunity has opened.”

Ban said Gambari was most pleased to have conveyed an offer from Than Shwe to meet with Suu Kyi, though it included conditions that she stop opposing the government. Gambari demanded that the regime release Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under detention.

Than Shwe said that he would meet with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate if she gave up her call for “confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions and all other sanctions,” according to Myanmar state media broadcasts Thursday.

Gambari said that in his two meetings with her, she ruled out preconditions but was willing to start talks about national reconciliation that reflected the will of the people and were “time-bound, concrete and serious.”

“From my own conversations, she appears very anxious to have a proper dialogue,” he said.

Gambari said that Than Shwe referred to the opposition leader only as “the Lady.” Suu Kyi, 62, appeared frail in photographs of their meeting, but Gambari said she told him her health was fine “under the circumstances.”


“I thought she looked better this time than last November when I last saw her,” he said.

Gambari said he demanded that Than Shwe put an end to night raids and arrests, lift the curfew, release detainees, withdraw forces from the streets and allow the Red Cross access to those arrested.

But the envoy also offered U.N. help addressing the economic and political roots of the protests. He noted that a third of Myanmar’s people live below the poverty line, and that the protests were sparked by a fuel price increase in August but quickly became a broader political movement. Gambari said he told Than Shwe that political grievances must be addressed, not simply suppressed.

Since 1988, when the military regime massacred an estimated 3,000 democracy activists, “the democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar have been systematically denied by the government in the name of stability and security,” Gambari said. “Unless the government decides to open up and broaden the process that is to define Myanmar’s future, the demands . . . are likely to continue.”

After the envoy’s briefing, the Security Council started work on a statement that would condemn the violent repression, demand the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and support Gambari’s efforts to open talks between the government and the opposition party. Disagreements among the 15 council members delayed the release of the statement until next week.

China objected to council action, saying that Myanmar’s internal problems, though disturbing, did not amount to a threat to international peace and security.

China, which is Myanmar’s neighbor and ally, is concerned about the stability of the country and supports Gambari’s efforts to mediate, said its ambassador, Wang Guangya.


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

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

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, told the Security Council that the government had released 2,095 people, including 728 monks, and planned to release more soon.

He warned the council to “refrain from any action that would be detrimental” to Gambari’s efforts, a statement that diplomats interpreted as a threat to deny the envoy entry to Myanmar if the council adopted sanctions against the country. Myanmar shut out Gambari’s predecessor, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, for 22 months.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that the United States would introduce a resolution demanding sanctions if Myanmar did not cooperate with the U.N. He added that he was “greatly disturbed to see that the regime resumed unlawful detention of citizens just hours” after the U.N. envoy’s departure.

Though China and Russia are likely to block Security Council sanctions, the United States is pressuring the junta with new measures, such as the freezing of U.S.-held assets of 14 senior officials and a U.S. travel ban that would apply to more than 200 officials and family members.


“It is important for the regime to understand that unlike 1988, now the world is very focused and engaged on this issue,” Khalilzad said. “We will not abandon the people of Burma again.”