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UN envoy returns to Yangon for junta talks

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari returns to Myanmar's capital in hopes of meeting reclusive junta chief Than Shwe to broker an end to a crackdown on dissent.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Yangon
UPDATED ON OCT 01, 2007 09:05 AM IST

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has returned to Myanmar's capital in hopes of meeting reclusive junta chief Than Shwe to broker an end to a crackdown on dissent, an official said on Monday.

Gambari met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi for more than an hour on Sunday before flying to the administrative capital Naypyidaw in central Myanmar, a UN official said.

He also visited the remote city on Saturday for talks with senior leaders to convey worldwide outrage over the violence used to put down the biggest anti-government protests seen in nearly 20 years.

Gambari was dispatched by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to intervene after the regime unleashed a military campaign to stop anti-government demonstrations several days ago, leaving at least 13 dead and hundreds arrested.

The four-day crackdown, which saw live rounds, baton charges and tear gas used against monks, protesters and civilians alike, succeeded in largely stopping the demonstrations.

In Yangon, residents on Monday were trying to get their lives back on track despite heavy security around the city.

Most schools and shops reopened for the first time since the crackdown began on Wednesday, as commuter buses returned to streets that had been blocked by barbed wire and armed soldiers.

Security forces also began allowing Buddhist faithful to enter the sacred Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, two key rallying points for the protests which had been completely sealed off for the last five days.

The military, which has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for 45 years, is under enormous international pressure after scenes of violence shocked the world.

In addition to Gambari's visit, Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka also arrived in Yangon on Sunday to probe the killing of a Japanese journalist by troops during a pro-democracy protest Thursday.

The body of video journalist Kenji Nagai bore signs that he was shot at point-blank range and died almost instantly, according to his employer, who saw his remains in hospital.

Japan is one of Myanmar's leading donors, and Yabunaka was expected to demand to meet top junta officials in Naypyidaw as well as with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Although the 62-year-old democracy leader has been effectively silenced by the regime, she has again captured the international spotlight amid the pro-democracy protests.

In dramatic scenes a week ago, the opposition leader stepped out of her home in tears to greet Buddhist monks who marched past the house where she has been confined for most of the past 18 years.

The protests first erupted in August after a massive hike in fuel prices, but escalated two weeks ago with the emergence of the Buddhist monks on the front line and drew up to 100,000 people onto the streets last week.

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