Myanmar quiets as U.N. envoy pays visit

September 30, 2007|By Henry Chu | Henry Chu,Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI -- A U.N. special envoy arrived in Myanmar yesterday for talks with the country's military rulers, whose ruthless crackdown on anti-government protesters has sparked international outrage.

The streets of Myanmar's main city, Yangon, were virtually empty of demonstrators for the first time in nearly two weeks and devoid of the gunfire and chaos that marked three days of violent suppression by soldiers and police. Security forces continued to patrol and seal off parts of the city, including the monasteries whose monks spearheaded protests.

Soldiers and police were posted on almost all corners in Yangon and Mandalay. Shopping malls, grocery stores and public parks were closed, and few people dared to venture out of their homes.

After landing in Yangon, U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari immediately traveled to the new capital of Naypyidaw, about 240 miles to the north, where the generals who rule Myanmar live in relative isolation from the people.

Details of Gambari's schedule were not available, nor was it clear whether he would be allowed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy leader who has lived under house arrest for most of the last 18 years.

"I expect to meet all the people that I need to meet," Gambari told reporters in Singapore before departing for Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Analysts question how much Gambari, a former foreign minister of Nigeria, can achieve in discussions with an iron-fisted junta that has shown itself impervious to outside pressure.

His mission to Myanmar reflects the growing international concern and anger arising from the generals' brutal clampdown on protesters, in which the government acknowledges that 10 people have been killed. Diplomats and dissident groups estimate the true death toll to be higher, possibly 200.

Some observers have feared a repeat of a 1988 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed.

The demonstrations began last month in response to steep hikes in fuel prices but soon became a vehicle for popular anger over 45 years of autocratic military rule. Last week, as many as 100,000 people marched in central Yangon.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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