/ 10 October 2007

Burma opposition says no move on talks

The party of Burma’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday it had not yet heard from the junta despite the appointment of a moderate general to hold talks with her.

Under pressure from the United Nations after its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests, the junta appointed Aung Kyi, a general seen as a moderate, to liaise with the Nobel peace prize winner.

But a spokesperson for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party said that the general had yet to make any contact.

”The authorities have seen a need to open a process of dialogue by appointing a liaison officer,” spokesperson Nyan Win said.

”It is still too early to welcome him, because we do not know what he will do or when the dialogue will start.”

Also on Wednesday, an organisation run by former political prisoners now living in exile in neighbouring Thailand said that an NLD member arrested over last month’s protests had died after being tortured during interrogation.

Win Shwe (42) was detained on September 26 near Burma’s second city of Mandalay, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

”He died as a result of torture during interrogation. However, his body was not sent to his family and the interrogators indicated that they had cremated it instead,” the group said in a statement.

The NLD were not immediately available to confirm the death.

Burma’s junta cracked down on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in Rangoon last month, unleashing baton charges, tear gas and live rounds, killing at least 13 people and sparking an international outcry.

In an apparent attempt to forestall any punitive United Nations action, the junta has made a series of conciliatory moves.

The military last week said that junta leader Than Shwe was willing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.

But it also said those talks would come with strict conditions attached, including a demand that she drop support for the international community to slap more sanctions on Burma.

The NLD, which won 1990 elections but has never been allowed to govern, issued a statement on Tuesday insisting that any talks be held without conditions.

”The statement we released yesterday was not a rejection” of the government’s offer, Nyan Win said. ”We just want to let the people know the real situation.”

A Western diplomat in Rangoon said the appointment of Aung Kyi, who has a track record of dealing with the UN, was one of a number of recent ”positive” signals from the regime, but warned against unbridled optimism.

”They have taken one step forward, but be cautious because they could still take two steps back,” he said.

The United States, France and Britain on Friday submitted a draft UN Security Council statement condemning the regime, but were forced to soften its tone after resistance from China, one of Burma’s few remaining allies.

A new watered-down version was making the rounds at the Security Council in New York on Wednesday, with council ambassadors expected to weigh up the text later in the day.

The new statement ”strongly deplores the violent repression” by the Burmese government of peaceful demonstrations, including ”the use of force against religious figures and institutions”.

It urges the military regime ”to cease all repressive measures, including the detention of protesters”.

Over the weekend, state media trumpeted the release of more than half of about 2 100 people arrested during September’s rallies.

But at the same time, the regime has used state media to warn that nearly 1 000 people still being held over the protests could face jail sentences.

Protests began in mid-August amid outrage at an overnight hike in fuel prices that left many commuters unable even to afford the bus fare to work.

The movement took off in late September when Buddhist monks led up to 100 000 supporters onto the streets in peaceful marches that became the most potent threat to the regime in almost two decades. – AFP