- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

Rangoon, Burma (AP) Burma’s junta leader stalled a U.N. envoy for yet another day today, delaying his chance to present international demands for an end to the crackdown on the largest protests in two decades.

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

Instead of the meeting today 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, citing protocol.

After days of intimidation that snuffed out the public demonstrations led by Buddhist monks, soldiers and riot police redeployed from Rangoon’s center to the outskirts today, but were still checking cars and buses, and monitoring the city by helicopter.

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

Public anger, which ignited Aug. 19 after the government increased 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.

A Norway-based dissident news organization, the Democratic Voice of Burma, said pro-democracy activists estimate 138 people were killed.

There was a clear sense that the anti-democracy protests had once again failed in the face of the junta’s overwhelming military might, which was last used in 1988 to crush a much larger uprising.

“The people are angry but afraid many are poor and struggling in life so they don’t join the protests anymore,” Thet, a 30-year-old university graduate who is now driving a taxi, said today.

“I think the protests are over because there is no hope pressing them,” said a 68-year-old teacher.

In Rangoon, trucks full of police and soldiers arrived in the afternoon. Small vendors immediately packed up and left, while other stores hurriedly closed their windows, fearing trouble.

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

Another Asian diplomat said today 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 said, also on condition of anonymity.

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

Gambari is expected to return to Rangoon on Tuesday to catch a flight out of the country, the diplomats said.

The U.N. said Gambari, in the country since Saturday, “remains in Burma. He looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe and other relevant interlocutors before the conclusion of his mission.”

The junta has not commented on Gambari’s mission. Since arriving on Saturday, he has met with junior members of the junta in Naypyitaw and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.

Gambari’s hour-long talk with Suu Kyi was unexpected he did not know before he arrived if he would be allowed to meet the 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner who has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in Burma. She has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Suu Kyi’ National League for Democracy party was not optimistic Gambari would yield any influence over the junta leaders.

The junta has never responded well to international pressure in the past and has rebuffed U.N. efforts to bring about reconciliation with Suu Kyi.

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 cannot follow a completely isolated path, as it has in the past.

“I do think a number of underlying dynamics have changed quite fundamentally and make us more hopeful that something might happen,” said British Ambassador Mark Canning.

The military rulers have sought to limit news coming out of Myanmar, with public Internet access restricted and mobile phone service sporadic for a fourth day in a row. Soldiers have gone to hotels in search of foreign journalists operating without permission.

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