Burma junta takes soldiers off Yangon streets

The Burma junta reduced security in Yangon sharply on Sunday, apparently confident it would face no further mass protests against military rule, but the streets remained unusually quiet and arrests continued.

The last barricades were removed from the centre of the former capital around the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, which were the starting and finishing points of protests that soldiers crushed by firing into crowds and arresting monks and other demonstrators.

The few people on the streets said they were still fearful and the internet, through which dramatic images of the protests and sweeping security force actions to end them reached an outraged world, remained cut off.

People on the streets were too scared to talk despite the ruling generals saying for the first time they were willing to talk to detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, albeit on conditions she is unlikely to accept.

Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the junta in 45 years of unbroken military rule, offered direct talks if Suu Kyi abandoned ”confrontation” and her support for sanctions and ”utter devastation”.

Nyan Win, a spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, or NLD, said the offer could open a path to talks about talks.

”It is a significant improvement on the past situation. They have never committed themselves to talking to her,” he said.

Burma analysts caution against optimism as hopes of change in the past have been dashed so often, punctuated by the army killing 3 000 people in crushing an uprising in 1988, and state-run newspapers said more people had been arrested.

They said on Sunday 78 more people suspected of taking part in mass protests had been picked up for questioning.

They said 1 216 people who took part ”unknowingly” had been released in the Yangon area after signing pledges not to participate in protests and 398 of the 533 monks taken in monastery raids around the city had been freed.

There was no word on the numbers of arrests and releases in other cities where thousands of people were reported to have protested against military rule, but Nyan Win said a senior NLD member, was arrested in the second city of Mandalay overnight.

Small hopes

Yet, there was a small hope international pressure on the junta to begin talks with the NLD, which won a landslide election victory in 1990 the generals ignored, might be having an impact on a regime that rarely takes notice of the outside world.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari told reporters on Friday after briefing the Security Council on his four-day visit to Burma he saw a ”window of opportunity” for talks between the junta and Suu Kyi, who met Gambari twice.

”From my own conversation, she appears to be very anxious to have a proper dialogue” provided there were no preconditions, Gambari said.

There has been no word from Suu Kyi (62), who has spent 12 of the past 18 years in detention and is confined to her house in Yangon without a telephone and requiring official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.

But, in what appeared to be another move aimed at deflecting international anger, state television broadcast rare footage of Suu Kyi for the first time in four years on Friday night.

It referred to her respectfully as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a departure from past practice when her father’s name, Aung San, was dropped to deny her link to the nation’s independence hero.

Britain, France and the United States — which is pushing for tougher sanctions against the junta — have circulated a draft statement at the UN Security Council that demanded the junta free political detainees and talk to the opposition.

It would have no legal force, but if a strongly worded statement were approved by China, the closest thing the junta has to an ally, it would send a forceful message to the generals. — Reuters

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