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Myanmar junta chief offers to meet Suu Kyi

Oct 5, 2007 (AFP), Myanmar’s junta chief has offered to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi if she ends her support for sanctions against the regime, state media said Thursday.

The announcement came as the junta said more than 2,000 people were arrested during its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests during the last week, acknowledging that some of the detainees were simply bystanders.

Myanmar’s Senior General Than Shwe made the offer to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi during his talks Tuesday with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, state television reported.

However, his offer was contingent on the 62-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has been held under house arrest for more than a decade, making a series of concessions that made any hope of talks appear a distant possibility.

"Senior General Than Shwe said during his meeting with Mr. Gambari that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been promoting four things — confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions on Myanmar, and other sanctions," state television said.

"Then he passed his message that he would meet directly with her for dialogue if she announces that she has given up these four things," it added.

Separately, the US State Department said the junta had invited the US envoy in Yangon for talks on Friday.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would send a "very clear message" to the generals, that they need to start a "meaningful" dialogue with all democratic opposition groups, stop the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, encourage economic and political reforms and greater freedom and openness.

Myanmar again accused foreign media of stoking the protests that drew 100,000 people into the streets of Yangon on successive days last week.

"The United Nations had to send Mr. Gambari because of the one-sided reporting of the foreign media," state television said.

Myanmar also made its first public account of the arrests in its crackdown that left at least 13 dead as security forces used baton charges, tear gas, and live weapons fire to break up the peaceful protests last week.

A total of 2,093 people were arrested since September 25, but 692 have already been released, state television said.

The number includes protesters, their supporters, but also simple bystanders who have all been accused of violating a ban on gatherings of more than five people, state television announced.

"The government ordered people not to gather as a precaution, but people gathered anyway," it said.

The protests were the greatest challenge in nearly two decades to the military, which has ruled the country also known as Burma for 45 years.

The crackdown has continued despite the international community increasing the pressure on the military, with Gambari due to brief Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later Thursday about his four-day mission here.

"They have a curfew in place and every night they arrest people," said Shari Villarosa, the chief US diplomat here, adding that the embassy believes the death toll is far higher than confirmed by the regime.

While a semblance of normality has returned during daytime, long-simmering discontent had been "heightened by anger by what has been done against the demonstrators, the atrocities that have been committed against the monks," she said.

Most Yangon monasteries seem empty, leaving neighbours to wonder if the monks have been arrested, injured or worse.

Activists who sent photos and video of the protests around the world have now found those weapons turned against them. Security forces also recorded the protests, apparently using the images to hunt down more activists.

Myanmar on Thursday released a 38-year-old local UN staff member, her two relatives and driver, a day after they were detained, the UN’s country chief Charles Petrie said.

China, which has in the past blocked steps to punish Myanmar, praised the UN mediation efforts and called for calm.

"We are pleased with the results achieved by Gambari’s visit," said a Chinese government statement without specifying what those results were.


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