Friday, November 30, 2007

UN envoy criticises continued Myanmar detentions, repression

AFP Photo: UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, seen here, has criticised the Myanmar junta's continued arrest of dissidents...

Fri Nov 30, 6:08 AM ET
PHNOM PENH (AFP) - UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari Friday criticised the Myanmar junta's continued arrests of dissidents following a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, saying it undermined national reconciliation.

Rights groups and activists inside the country have accused the government of detaining prominent activists and also of closing a monastery linked to the demonstrations in September.

Rights group Amnesty International said this week that at least 16 people had been seized since early November, despite the junta's promise to Gambari, the UN secretary general's special representative to Myanmar, that there would be no more arrests.

"Any further arrests of people are contrary to the spirit of national reconciliation and also run counter to the effort to promote dialogue" between the government and political opposition, Gambari told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Cambodia.

"Any action that runs contrary to the spirit of national reconciliation... should be avoided," he said, adding that dialogue, including with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was the only way out of Myanmar's political crisis.

"If Aung San Suu Kyi is to become part of the solution and part of the dialogue, then it is very essential that she be released from detention," he said.

Gambari was in Cambodia as part of a regional trip to assess the positions of Myanmar's neighbours after the junta's bloody suppression of September's pro-democracy protests.

Troops killed at least 15 people and arrested about 3,000, drawing international condemnation and pressure for increased sanctions.

Shari Villarosa, the charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Yangon, told reporters that she hoped Gambari would be allowed to return soon to Myanmar to push forward efforts at building a dialogue between the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Hopefully he can get back in and get something that to all observers will look like real dialogue, because it's hard for most observers to see that right now," Villarosa said at a briefing in Bangkok.

"We remain very supportive of his good offices role," she added.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Cambodia is a member, has come under increasing pressure to deal with its most unruly member since the unrest broke out.

Following talks Thursday with Gambari, Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong rejected sanctions against Myanmar, a diplomatic ally, saying instead that incentives should be used to push the junta towards democracy.

Hor Namhong did say, however, that Gambari's mission to Myanmar had his country's support.

"Cambodia... is in a privileged position to convey key messages to Myanmar and I believe they will do that," Gambari said shortly before departing for Laos on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein arrived in Cambodia for an official three-day visit, during which he will hold discussions with his counterpart Hun Sen.

Hor Namhong told reporters at Thein Sein's arrival that the situation in Myanmar had improved since the crackdown, and that the unrest would not be discussed.

"We are not going to raise anything. We think the situation is moving ahead... what happened is in the past," Hor Namhong said.

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