Envoy Cites Reports Of Abuses in Burma

A group of monks listen as U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari briefs members of U.N. Security Council on his recent tour and findings in Burma.
A group of monks listen as U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari briefs members of U.N. Security Council on his recent tour and findings in Burma. (By David Karp -- Associated Press)
By Colum Lynch and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 6, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 5 -- A U.N. special envoy on Friday cited "disturbing reports" of continuing abuses against pro-democracy demonstrators in Burma as the United States threatened to call for additional sanctions against the Southeast Asian government.

France and other European governments echoed U.S. warnings against continued repression in Burma, but China and Russia voiced opposition to sanctions, saying such a step could undermine U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, the government in Burma promised to release more demonstrators arrested in a recent crackdown, and U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari said he was "cautiously encouraged" that Senior Gen. Than Shwe, leader of the country's ruling junta, was prepared to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Gambari said he conferred with Than Shwe and other top government officials and twice met with Suu Kyi during a three-day visit to Burma, also known as Myanmar. But he said he wasn't allowed to hold talks with members of her National League for Democracy or representatives of protesting Buddhist monks and dissident ex-students. The diplomat later told reporters that although some say the 62-year-old Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past 18 years under house arrest, looked "frail" in photos of their meeting she "said she is in fairly good health, under the circumstances of her continued detention."

Although protests on the streets of Rangoon, Burma's largest city, "had been largely put down" by the time his mission started Sept. 29, "the situation remains tense," Gambari told the Security Council. "Of great concern . . . 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." He also cited reports of "mass relocation" outside Rangoon of monks who were arrested in the demonstrations and the continuing blockade of Buddhist monasteries.

He said the junta has relaxed curfews in Rangoon and Mandalay and reduced the "visible military presence in the streets." Burmese authorities informed him that they have released 2,095 people arrested in the demonstrations, including 728 monks, and would soon free others, he said. There have been no independent counts of just how many people the junta has detained in its crackdown.

[Burma's state television announced late Friday that the junta is hunting four "activist monks" it considers the leaders of the protests in Rangoon, Reuters reported. MRTV said more than 400 monks and 188 men and women had been freed since 18 Buddhist monasteries in and around the city were raided last week. Another 109 monks and nine men were still being questioned, it said.]

Burma's U.N. envoy, Kyaw Tint Swe, told the Security Council that "stability" has been restored and that pro-government rallies were taking place throughout the country. The government has begun to release jailed civilians "who did not infringe on any serious laws," he said, adding that "more releases will follow."

Than Shwe, Burma's top military ruler, is willing to meet with Suu Kyi provided she agrees to "renounce her obstructive and confrontational stance," Kyaw Tint Swe said. He did not elaborate on that demand. Suu Kyi's party promptly dismissed it as a surrender ultimatum, saying it effectively meant renouncing her campaign for democracy.

Kyaw Tint Swe said Gambari was invited to return to Burma in November for more meetings. But he suggested U.N. diplomatic efforts would be undermined by a council decision to impose sanctions. Despite the "recent tragic events," the envoy said, "the situation in Myanmar is not . . . a threat to international or regional security."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon prefaced his envoy's presentation by denouncing Burma's violent suppression of peaceful demonstrators as "abhorrent and unacceptable." He urged Than Shwe and Suu Kyi to "meet as soon as possible" to take advantage of a "window of opportunity."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, voiced skepticism, saying Than Shwe's offer to meet with Suu Kyi "included unrealistic conditions." He called on Southeast Asian countries and other U.N. member states to "increase pressure" on Burma.

The council should be prepared to consider measures such as arms embargoes to compel the junta to cooperate with Gambari, the U.S. envoy said, adding that "it is time for this council to do more than simply listen to a briefing."

China, which holds a Security Council veto, signaled that it was unwilling to sanction its neighbor, with which it has close economic ties.

Branigin reported from Washington.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company