05 October, 2007

Junta chief willing to meet with Suu Kyi

Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Than Shwe has agreed to meet with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, but only if she stops calling for confrontation, 'utter devastation' and economic sanctions against the regime, state-media said on Friday.

'If she declares to give them up, the senior general will personally meet with her,' said a government announcement published in The New Light of Myanmar.

Burma’s top general, Senior General Than Shwe, told a visiting United Nations envoy this week that he was willing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize-winning democracy advocate, if she gives up her “confrontational attitude,” Burma’s state broadcasters reported on Thursday night.

Gen Than Shwe, the most powerful figure in the ruling military junta, was reported to have told Ibrahim Gambari that Ms Suu Kyi should also give up her calls for economic sanctions.

He told Mr Gambari that “in her dealings with the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called for confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions and all other sanctions”, the state media reported.

“If she abandons these calls, Senior Gen Than Shwe told Mr Gambari that he will personally meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” the newscast continued.

Meanwhile, the sense of vulnerability conveyed contrasts with the mood on the streets over a week ago. There was a feeling of euphoria and release as tens of thousands of people, led by young monks in crimson and saffron robes, marched in a protest the likes of which have not been seen in Burma in nearly 20 years. People who stood on the sides of the streets and on the balconies of nearby buildings clapped and cheered.

But then came the brutal crackdown, as Burma’s military regime ordered heavily armed troops, riot police and a pro-government militia to crush the peaceful protests. Bullets and batons were used by the junta’s troops to silence the monks and civilian protestors who had come out to express their rage on unbearable economic hardship and object to the regime’s grip on power.

brahim Gambari, a Nigerian diplomat, spent four days in Burma, beginning Saturday, Sep. 29. He met Senior General Than Shwe, the junta’s strongman, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader currently under house arrest, during his mission. Gambari was expected to convey the international outrage that followed the junta’s bloody crackdown and to begin a ‘’constructive dialogue’’ with the military regime.

But it is clear that the junta, which has changed the country’s name to Myanmar, is in no mood to give in. One clue was the view made known to the international community by Burma’s foreign minister Nyan Win while Gambari was in his country. ‘’Normalcy has now returned to Myanmar,’’ Nyan Win said this week during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Yet barely 24 hours after Gambari left Burma, another sinister side of the regime was on display, undermining claims of ‘’normalcy’’ and Burmese soldiers and riot police exercising ‘’restraint.’’

For two consecutive days, the junta’s forces mounted search-and-arrest missions, targeting scores of people living and working in and around areas where the protests were held, including the famous Shwedagon and Sule pagodas. Buddhist monks have not been spared, either.

‘’The crackdowns this week are more serious. They are going around with individual photographs of people they want to target,’’ Soe Aung, foreign affairs spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella body of Burmese political groups, told IPS correspondent Marwaan Macan-Markar in Bangkok. ‘’They are threatening many people who they suspect were involved in the protests.’’

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