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Myanmar Opposition dismisses Junta offer to talk

Detained Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party dismisses the Junta's offer of talks as surreal on Friday.

world Updated: Oct 06, 2007 11:10 IST
Aung Hla Tun

Detained Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party dismissed the Myanmar junta's offer of talks as surreal on Friday, while China said the ruthless suppression of pro-democracy protests did not require international action.

Senior General Than Shwe, who caused international outrage by sending in soldiers to crush peaceful monk-led demonstrations, was asking Suu Kyi to abandon the campaign for democracy that has kept her in detention for 12 of the last 18 years, a spokesman said.

"They are asking her to confess to offences that she has not committed," said Nyan Win, spokesman for the Nobel peace laureate's National League for Democracy (NLD), whose landslide election victory in 1990 was ignored by the generals.

Than Shwe, head of the latest Junta in 45 unbroken years of military rule of the former Burma, set out his conditions for direct talks at a meeting with special UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Tuesday, state-run television said.

It announced the terms on the eve of Gambari's report on his mission to the UN Security Council, saying Suu Kyi must abandon "confrontation", give up "obstructive measures" and support for sanctions and "utter devastation", a phrase it did not explain.

"It is very difficult to see how that will be productive because basically he has asked Aung San Suu Kyi publicly to surrender before the meeting takes place," Georgetown University Myanmar expert David Steinberg told Reuters Television.

"You could say it's a psychological ploy and at the same time it's very clear that the military is not making any concessions."

Nyan Win demanded Suu Kyi be allowed to respond in public.

That is unlikely. The only time Suu Kyi has been seen in public since she was last detained in May 2003 was during one monk-led demonstration when protesters were inexplicably allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.

People who applauded protest marches from the sidewalk could face two to five years in jail, said Win Min, who fled to Thailand in 1988 as the army crushed an uprising at the cost of around 3,000 lives. Leaders could face 20 years, he said.

The Norway-based opposition Democratic Voice of Burma quoted relatives as saying about 50 students who demonstrated in Mandalay had been sentenced to five years hard labor.

Gambari report

The United States called on the junta to talk to Suu Kyi without conditions and US charge d'affaires Shari Villarosa went to the new capital, Naypyidaw, to urge it to begin a "meaningful dialogue" with opposition groups.

A diplomatic source said she was to see Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, who is not a policymaker, ahead of Gambari's report to the Security Council.

It dispatched Gambari to Myanmar in hopes of ending a crackdown involving soldiers shooting into crowds and mass arrests, and getting talks with Suu Kyi started.

But veto-wielding China said it opposed international action.

"There are problems there in Myanmar, but these problems still, we believe, are basically internal," China's UN Ambassador, Wang Guangya, said, "No international-imposed solution can help the situation. We want the government there to handle this issue."

To many in Myanmar, the government is the issue in the resource-rich country of increasingly impoverished people.

But with China, the closest thing the junta has to an ally, blocking action at the United Nations, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- one of the few international groupings of which Myanmar is a member -- unwilling to change its policy, experts say little is likely to happen.

Singapore, its current chairman, said ASEAN would continue its policy of engagement with Myanmar, one which has shown no more signs of influencing the generals than Western sanctions, to try to "help it move forward".

"We have to be mindful of the realities," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his country's daily Straits Times. "Sanctions against a regime that is ready to isolate itself are more likely to be counter-productive than effective."

Singapore is a leading investor in Myanmar, one of the world's most isolated countries.

The junta says all is back to normal after "the least possible force" was used to end demonstrations which began with small marches against huge fuel price rises in August and escalated after troops fired over the heads of protesting monks.

It says 10 people were killed in the crackdown on the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.