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U.N. envoy urges Myanmar's military rulers to quickly start talks with detained pro-democracy leader

U.N. envoy urges Myanmar's military rulers to quickly start talks with detained pro-democracy leader

The chief U.N. envoy to Myanmar urged the country's military rulers on Friday to take "bold actions" toward democracy and quickly start talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aunt San Us Kyi. The United States warned it will press for sanctions if the government does not act.
"This is an hour of historic opportunity for Myanmar," Ibrahim Gambari told the U.N. Security Council following his four-day trip to the country after the government's crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and Buddhist monks. "To delay the prospect of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Myanmar is to deny it to those who deserve it most, the people of Myanmar."
A dozen red-robed monks from Myanmar who now live in the United States sat in the front row of the visitors gallery listening intently.
Gambari said he is "cautiously encouraged" that the country's military ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, would meet Suu Kyi "although with certain conditions." They include giving up her calls for confronting the government and for imposing sanctions against it, Myanmar state media said.
Gambari stressed, however, that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for talks without any preconditions to overcome "the high level of mistrust" between Than Shwe and Suu Kyi.
"From my own conversations (with Suu Kyi), she appears to be very anxious to have a proper dialogue _ and, of course, a dialogue that the secretary-general has characterized as without preconditions _ because that would be the best way to move forward. Just start talking," Gambari told reporters afterward.
"The expectation is ... not an open-ended dialogue, but dialogue that (is) targeted to achieving national reconciliation in an all-inclusive manner, a constitution that reflects the will of the majority of the people, and also a government that is responsive to the needs of their own people," he said.
"That's the kind of thing that Aung San Suu Kyi would like to see from such a dialogue _ time-bound, concrete and serious," Gambari said.
Gambari, who met twice with Suu Kyi and once with Than Shwe during his visit, addressed the council shortly after the secretary-general urged Myanmar's military rulers to "take bold actions toward democratization and respect for human rights."
"I must reiterate that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable," Ban said, calling on the government to release all detainees "without further delay."
Gambari, told the council his mission helped convey the "urgent need" for action to the government.
"We will judge by what they actually do," he said. "We want the delivery of results."
Gambari said he has been invited to return to Myanmar in mid-November but may try to go earlier, and consult with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well.
The United States threatened to introduce a resolution seeking sanctions, including an arms embargo, against Myanmar if it does not move quickly toward national reconciliation and release thousands of detainees.
But China and Russia remain opposed to council action, saying the situation in Myanmar is an internal affair that does not threaten international peace and security.
Myanmar's U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, also urged the Security Council not to take any action, saying his country was committed to forging ahead with national reconciliation.
"Patience, time and space is needed," he said.
"Despite the recent tragic events, the situation in Myanmar is not, and I repeat not, a threat to either regional or international peace and security," Kyaw Tint Swe said. "No Security Council action is warranted."
He said stability had returned to his country and people have been holding peaceful, pro-government rallies "to demonstrate their aversion to recent, provocative demonstrations." Critics say such rallies are shams, filled with people ordered to attend by authorities.
Myanmar's junta took power in 1988 after crushing the democracy movement led by Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide election victory. Suu Kyi has been detained for nearly 12 of the last 18 years and is currently under house arrest.
"She looked better this time than last November when I last saw her," Gambari said.
"She herself said she's in fairly good health under the circumstance of her continued detention," he added, reiterating the U.N.'s call for her release along with other political prisoners.
The current protests began Aug. 19 after the government hiked fuel prices in one of Asia's poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military rule that has gripped the country since 1962. The protests were faltering when Buddhist monks took the lead late last month.
"I think it took them by surprise," Gambari said of Myanmar's military leaders.
Ban sent Gambari to Myanmar after troops quashed the protests with gunfire last week. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks. The government is continuing to round up suspected activists.
Myanmar's ambassador said Friday that 2,095 people arrested during the demonstrations had been released, including 728 monks, and that more releases will follow. Myanmar's government said Friday that all but 109 monks had been freed and authorities were searching for four monks who led the protests, state-run television reported.
Ban, Gambari, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and many other speakers at Friday's open council meeting decried the violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators.
Gambari expressed great concern at "the continuing and disturbing reports" of abuses by security officials and non-uniformed people, including nighttime raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances.
"There are also continuing reports of mass relocation outside (the capital) Yangon of monks arrested in the course of the demonstrations and monasteries that remain blockaded," he said. "The U.N. office in Yangon has also received requests from people asking for a safe place to hide."
While Gambari thanked the Myanmar government for its cooperation during his visit, he said that despite repeated requests he was not able to meet with members of Suu Kyi's party and representatives of the monks and students who led the last major anti-government protests in 1988.
Over the past two years, Gambari said, "Myanmar has demonstrated greater openness and cooperation with the United Nations and the international community."
"Now is the time for Myanmar's leadership to make the bold choices that will demonstrate that these efforts were not in vain," he said.
"The world is not what it was 20 years ago, and no country can afford to act in isolation from the standards by which all members of the international community are held. It is therefore essential for Myanmar's leadership to recognize that what happens inside Myanmar can have serious international repercussions," Gambari warned.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned that if the government does not respond to the demands of the international community in a timely manner, "the United States is prepared to introduce a resolution in the Security Council imposing sanctions," citing a possible arms embargo.
The United States "is appalled by the brutal repression" of peaceful demonstrators, he said, "and it should be unacceptable to powers with influence over Burma, to regional states and indeed to all of us in this room."
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya called on the Security Council to exercise restraint and reiterated his country's opposition to pressuring Myanmar through such measures as sanctions.
"Pressure would not serve any purpose and would only lead to confrontation," Wang said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his government has called on the government to implement democratic reforms.
The Security Council's job, he said, "is to continue lending political support to the efforts of Mr. Gambari."
Britain and France said they want the council to adopt a presidential statement supporting Gambari and action toward national reconcilation.
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Associated Press writers Justin Bergman and Carley Petesch contributed to this report from the United Nations.