Saturday, October 06, 2007

World Effort Has Made A Difference For Myanmar

Myanmar's military regime tries to cool international pressure

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's junta Saturday tried to cool growing UN pressure over its deadly crackdown on peaceful protests, offering talks with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and relaxing its blockage of the Internet.

But analysts warned that the rare gestures offered by the regime appeared to be token efforts to stave off tougher UN action demanded by the United States and other Western countries.

Faced with the biggest protests against military rule in nearly two decades, Myanmar's government launched a bloody crackdown in late September that left at least 13 dead and more than 2,000 locked up.

Across Asia, activists on Saturday took to the streets in cities from Sydney to Bangkok, kicking off a global day of protest against Myanmar's bloody crackdown on dissent.

Hundreds rallied outside Sydney's iconic Opera House, while in Melbourne 1,000 people marched, some carrying red banners that read "no more bloodshed."

In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent a message of support to the people of Myanmar, saying the world was not forgetting them.

"We have not forgotten their courage and dignity, taking to the streets in the face of a brutal regime. We have not forgotten the guns and batons, the arrests and murders which met them," Brown said.

Meanwhile, UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Myanmar to express global outrage at the junta's actions, warned the UN Security Council Friday that the nation's turmoil could have "serious international repercussions."

As Gambari was briefing the Council in New York, state television in Myanmar broadcast images of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time in at least four years.

The regime also restored some Internet access and announced that it had freed hundreds of detained Buddhist monks who led the protests.

The military, which has ruled this country also known as Burma for 45 years, rarely makes any concessions, but analysts warned the gestures were a bid to ward off tougher international action.

"The regime is trying to cool down international pressure. The junta hopes to defuse pressure as the UN Security Council is likely to take some action against Burma following Gambari's briefing," Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Win Min said.

Junta leader Than Shwe has made a heavily conditioned offer to hold talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, insisting that the Nobel peace prize winner drop her support for sanctions and tell supporters to stop confronting the government.

"It's a mixed signal. It showed Than Shwe at least recognised internal and international calls for dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi," Win Min said.

"But at the same time, the conditions set by the regime were not realistic at all. It looks like the regime really doesn't want to talk to her."

Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, has spent most of the past 18 years under house arrest but she remains an international symbol of non-violent struggle against tyranny.

The United States has led global calls for her release and warned Friday that it may push for UN sanctions if the ruling junta kept up a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

After Gambari's briefing, the United States, Britain and France circulated a draft of a non-binding statement condemning Myanmar's government.

"The Security Council condemns the violent repression by the government of Myanmar of peaceful demonstrations, including the use of force against religious figures and institutions," the text said.

Gambari told reporters that there was a consensus among members of the Security Council that the status quo in Myanmar "is unacceptable and unsustainable and probably unrealistic."

He also said Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to be in good spirits when he met her.

"But now I think she wants this to be used as an opportunity to really engage in dialogue with the authorities so that together they can move the country forward," he told CNN.

In Yangon, residents declined to comment on the UN draft statement condemning the junta's actions.

"I don't want to talk about politics. Poor people like me are just trying to survive. Now commodity prices are high, but my salary is still low," said a security guard in his 40s who works at a downtown building.

Myanmar's neighbour China has previously sheltered the generals from action at the United Nations.

China's ambassador to the world body, Wang Guangyam, has warned that pressure for greater democratisation "would only lead to confrontation."

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