Saturday, February 2, 2008

US envoy wants int'l pressure on Myanmar's regime

By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer
Fri Feb 1, 7:03 AM ET

BANGKOK, Thailand - Fresh international pressure is necessary to push Myanmar's military rulers toward reform because the momentum for change after last year's demonstrations has been lost, the top U.S. diplomat in the country said Friday.

The appeal by Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, followed signs that the ruling junta was again stepping up repression of dissidents.

It also came after Myanmar's detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday she was dissatisfied with the progress of her reconciliation talks with the junta, and cautioned the public to "hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

Myanmar's crisis attracted world attention when Buddhist monks last September began leading anti-government protests, the biggest in two decades. At least 30 people are believed to have been killed when the government suppressed the demonstrations, and thousands detained, though most have since been released.

Under pressure from U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, the junta appointed a "Minister for Relations" to talk with Suu Kyi, but their few meetings have borne no results, and junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe has made no further moves toward reconciliation.

"I think everybody hoped that there was genuine will on the part of Than Shwe and his senior generals to begin a real dialogue, and what is increasingly evident is that they have no intention whatsoever in engaging in a genuine dialogue," Villarosa said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Bangkok.

Earlier this week, lawyers working with the pro-democracy movement said that about two dozen members of the 88 Generation Students group, whose small protests against a fuel price hike mushroomed into last September's massive demonstrations, would face trial. They are charged with making illegal statements and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Last week, human rights group Amnesty International said the ruling military had continued to arrest political activists, despite its promise to the United Nations that it would halt arrests following September's demonstrations.

Amnesty International said 1,850 political prisoners were behind bars, including 96 imprisoned since early November when the government told the world body it had stopped all arrests.

Villarosa said it was crucial for Myanmar's fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with its giant neighbors China and India, to push the junta to open up to dialogue and reconciliation with its opponents. The U.N. also needs to be involved, she said.

Myanmar's detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, third right, meets with members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) led by party's Chairman Aung Shwe, secnd left, at the government guest house in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008. Suu Kyi is unsatisfied with the progress of her meetings with a representative of Myanmar's military junta and cautions the public to 'hope for the best and prepare for the worst,' her political party said. Others are unidentified. (AP Photo)

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