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Myanmar's Military Rulers Avoid Meeting U.N. Envoy

Myanmar Buddhist monks chant outside the United Nations Office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Monday.
Sanka Vidanagama
AFP/Getty Images
Myanmar Buddhist monks chant outside the United Nations Office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Monday.

Myanmar military rulers put off meeting a U.N. envoy for yet another day Monday amid international demands for an end to a crackdown on the largest anti-government protests in two decades in the Southeast Asian nation.

A Norway-based dissident news organization estimated that 138 people were killed — more than 10 times the government figure — and 6,000 detained.

After days of intimidation that snuffed out the demonstrations led by Buddhist monks, soldiers and riot police redeployed from the city center to the outskirts Monday, but were still checking cars and buses.

Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar, was given an appointment to meet with Senior Gen. Than Shwe on Tuesday in the junta's remote bunker-like capital, Naypyidaw, an Asian diplomat said.

However, instead of the meeting Monday that he had hoped for, Gambari was taken on a government-sponsored trip to attend a seminar in the far northern Shan state on EU relations with Southeast Asia, said other diplomats. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity.

Public anger, which ignited Aug. 19 after the government hiked fuel prices, turned into mass protests against 45 years of military dictatorship when Buddhist monks joined in. Soldiers responded last week by opening fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing at least 10 people by the government's account. Dissident groups say at least 200 people may have died.

Traffic was still light and most shops remained closed. Some monks were allowed to leave monasteries to collect food donations, watched by soldiers.

"It's outwardly quite normal at the moment. The traffic seems to be flowing, there's a lot of military tucked away in less visible locations," British Ambassador Mark Canning told The Associated Press.

On Monday, Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, the two main flash points of the unrest, were reopened, but there were few visitors.

An Asian diplomat said Monday all the arrested monks were defrocked — stripped of their highly revered status and made to wear civilian clothes. Some of them are likely to face long jail terms, the diplomat told the AP on condition of anonymity.

In Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, security forces arrested dozens of university students who staged a street protest on Sunday, a witness said.

The government's mouthpiece newspaper, meanwhile, said foreigners were partly to blame for the crisis that has engulfed the country.

"Internal and external destructionists are applying various means to destroy those constructive endeavors by the government and the people and to cause unrest and instability," the New Light of Myanmar said.

It said 11 people were arrested over the weekend in two separate demonstrations, several of them university students.

Some were carrying identification cards for studying English at the U.S. Embassy's American Center in Yangon, the paper said, adding that "weapons" seized included five slingshots and marbles, a pair of scissors and one sharp iron rod.

The junta, which has rebuffed scores of previous U.N. attempts at promoting democracy, did not comment on Gambari's mission.

On Sunday, Gambari met for an hour with pro-democracy leader Aun San Suu Kyi. She has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

In the past, the junta has not responded well to international pressure. But its desire for oil and gas investment, increased tourism and its status as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations means it may not be able to continue on its isolated path.

"I do think a number of underlying dynamics have changed quite fundamentally and make us more hopeful that something might happen," said Canning, the British ambassador.

ASEAN, the 10-member bloc that includes Myanmar, wrote a letter to Than Shwe on Monday expressing revulsion at the violent repression of demonstrators.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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