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'Hour of opportunity' for Myanmar junta

Monks listen as U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari briefs members of the United Nations Security Council Friday on his recent four-day tour of Myanmar.
Monks listen as U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari briefs members of the United Nations Security Council Friday on his recent four-day tour of Myanmar.
David Karp, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The chief U.N. envoy to Myanmar urged the country's military rulers on Friday to strive toward democracy and quickly start talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The U.S. warned it will press for sanctions if the junta does not act.

"This is an hour of historic opportunity for Myanmar," Ibrahim Gambari told the U.N. Security Council following his four-day trip to the country after the government's crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and Buddhist monks. "To delay the prospect of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Myanmar is to deny it to those who deserve it most, the people of Myanmar."

A dozen red-robed monks from Myanmar who now live in the United States sat in the front row of the visitors gallery listening intently.

Gambari said he is "cautiously encouraged" that the country's military ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, said he would meet Suu Kyi "although with certain conditions." They include her giving up calls for confronting the government and for imposing sanctions against it, Myanmar state media said.

Gambari stressed, however, that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for talks without any preconditions to overcome "the high level of mistrust" between Than Shwe and Suu Kyi.

"From my own conversations (with Suu Kyi), she appears to be very anxious to have a proper dialogue," Gambari told reporters afterward.

"The expectation is ... not an open-ended dialogue but dialogue that (is) targeted to achieving national reconciliation in an all-inclusive manner, a constitution that reflects the will of the majority of the people, and also a government that is responsive to the needs of their own people," he said.

Gambari, who met twice with Suu Kyi and once with Than Shwe during his visit, addressed the council shortly after the secretary-general urged Myanmar's military rulers to "take bold actions toward democratization and respect for human rights."

"I must reiterate that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable," Ban said, calling on the government to release all detainees "without further delay."

Gambari, who said his mission helped convey the "urgent need" for action to the government, said he has been invited to return in mid-November but may try to go earlier.

The United States threatened to introduce a resolution seeking sanctions, including an arms embargo, against Myanmar if it does not move quickly toward national reconciliation and release thousands of detainees.

But China and Russia remain opposed to council action, saying the situation in Myanmar is an internal affair that does not threaten international peace and security.

Myanmar's U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, also urged the Security Council not to take any action, saying his country was committed to forging ahead with national reconciliation.

"Despite the recent tragic events, the situation in Myanmar is not, and I repeat not, a threat to either regional or international peace and security," the ambassador said. "No Security Council action is warranted."

Kyaw Tint Swe said stability had returned to his country and people have been holding peaceful, pro-government rallies "to demonstrate their aversion to recent, provocative demonstrations." Critics say such rallies are shams, filled with people ordered to attend by authorities.

Myanmar's junta took power in 1988 after crushing the democracy movement led by Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide election victory. Suu Kyi has been detained for nearly 12 of the last 18 years and is currently under house arrest.

"She looked better this time than last November when I last saw her," Gambari said.

Ban sent Gambari to Myanmar after troops quashed the protests with gunfire last week. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.

Myanmar's ambassador said Friday that 2,095 detainees had been released, including 728 monks, and that more releases will follow.

Meanwhile, actor Jim Carrey said Friday the international community was sanctioning the Myanmar crackdown by failing to take firm action against the military junta.

At a news conference near U.N. headquarters, Carrey urged the Security Council to pass a resolution authorizing an arms embargo against Myanmar, saying "this is a government that uses its weapons not in self-defense but against its own citizens."

Carrey is one of numerous celebrities who have signed a letter calling on Ban to help win the freedom of Suu Kyi.