- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

UNITED NATIONS (AP) The U.N. envoy to Burma said today the government’s willingness to talk with the detained pro-democracy leader marked a “historic opportunity” but called for the release of all political prisoners after a deadly crackdown on protesters.

Ibrahim Gambari, who returned earlier this week from the Southeast Asian nation and addressed the U.N. Security Council, said he was encouraged that Burma’s military ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, is prepared to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi under certain conditions including giving up calls for international sanctions against the country.

Suu Kyi has been detained for nearly 12 of the last 18 years and is currently under house arrest, although the government allowed her two brief meetings with Gambari during his four-day visit.

“The sooner such a meeting can take place, the better, as it is a first and necessary step to overcome the high level of mistrust between them,” he said.

Ban sent Gambari to the Southeast Asian nation after troops quelled mass pro-democracy protests with gunfire last week. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks. The government is continuing to round up suspected activists.

“I must reiterate that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable,” Ban said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned that if the government doesn’t “respond constructively to the demands of the international community in a timely manner the U.S. is prepared to introduce a resolution in the Security Council imposing sanctions,” citing a possible arms embargo.

China and Russia have ruled out any Security Council action, saying the situation in Burma poses no threat to international or regional peace and security and the country’s future lies in the hands of its people and government.

“Pressure would not serve any purpose and would only lead to confrontation,” said China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya. “If the situation in Burma takes a worse turn because of external intervention it will be the people of the country who will bear the brunt.”

Gambari told the council that “another necessary step for genuine national dialogue to take place is the release of all political detainees, particularly the sick and the elderly.”

Gambari’s comments came shortly after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke before the council, urging Burma’s military rulers to “take bold actions towards democratization and respect for human rights.”

While Gambari thanked the Burma government for its cooperation during his visit, he said that despite repeated requests he was not able to meet with members of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, and representatives of the monks and students who led the last major anti-government protests in 1988.

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