Burma opposition dismisses junta offer to talk

Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party dismissed the Burma junta’s offer of talks as surreal on Friday as a United Nations envoy warned of ”serious international consequences” from the junta’s brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters.

Ibrahim Gambari, addressing the UN Security Council after a four-day visit to Burma, called for the release of all political prisoners there and voiced concern at reports of continuing government abuses in the wake of last week’s protests.

”Of great concern to the UN and the international community 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,” Gambari told the council.

Gambari also said there were unconfirmed reports that the number of casualties was ”much higher than the dozen people reported killed by the government.

The junta says 10 people were killed in the crackdown on the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years, though Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.

The Western powers have called for the Security Council to impose sanctions on Burma, but veto-holding China is opposed to any action by the 15-member body because the junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners was an internal affair.

Addressing the council just before Gambari, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for ”bold actions” by the military government toward democratisation and respect for human rights.

”The use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable,” he said.

Senior General Than Shwe, who caused international outrage by sending in soldiers to crush the peaceful monk-led demonstrations, was asking Suu Kyi to abandon the campaign for democracy that has kept her in detention for 12 of the last 18 years, an opposition spokesperson said.

”They are asking her to confess to offences that she has not committed,” said Nyan Win, spokesperson for the Nobel peace laureate’s National League for Democracy (NLD), whose landslide election victory in 1990 was ignored by the generals.

Than Shwe, head of the latest junta in 45 unbroken years of military rule, set out his conditions for direct talks at a meeting with Gambari on Tuesday, state-run television said.

It said Suu Kyi must abandon ”confrontation,” give up ”obstructive measures” and support for sanctions and ”utter devastation,” a phrase it did not explain.

”It is very difficult to see how that will be productive because basically he has asked Aung San Suu Kyi publicly to surrender before the meeting takes place,” Georgetown University Burma expert David Steinberg told Reuters Television.

”You could say it’s a psychological ploy and at the same time it’s very clear that the military is not making any concessions.”

Nyan Win demanded Suu Kyi be allowed to respond in public.

That is unlikely.

People who applauded protest marches could face two to five years in jail, said Win Min, who fled to Thailand in 1988 as the army crushed an uprising at the cost of about 3 000 lives. Leaders could face 20 years, he said.

The Norway-based opposition Democratic Voice of Burma quoted relatives as saying about 50 students who demonstrated in Mandalay had been sentenced to five years hard labour.

Action unlikely

The United States called on the junta to talk to Suu Kyi without conditions and US charge d’affaires Shari Villarosa went to the new capital, Naypyidaw, to urge it to begin a ”meaningful dialogue” with opposition groups.

A diplomatic source said she was to see Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, who is not a policymaker.

With China, the closest thing the junta has to an ally, blocking action at the United Nations, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) — one of the few international groupings of which Burma is a member — unwilling to change its policy, experts say little is likely to happen.

Singapore, Asean’s current chairperson and a leading investor in Burma, said the group would continue its policy of engagement with Burma, one which has shown no more signs of influencing the generals than Western sanctions, to try to ”help it move forward.”

The junta says all is back to normal after ”the least possible force” was used to end demonstrations that began with small marches against huge fuel price rises in August and escalated after troops fired over the heads of protesting monks. — Reuters

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