NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last night dispatched his special envoy to urge restraint on the Burmese regime, hours after soldiers fired tear gas at peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators outside a monastery.
Condemnation of the attacks by the military on Buddhist monks and other protesters came from the United States, other members of the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and a score of human rights groups around the world.
VIDEO: Police fire on protestors in Burma
“The regime has reacted brutally to people who were simply protesting peacefully,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in New York yesterday to meet with ministers on the sidelines of the General Assembly general debate.
“We really do call on the regime to cease all violence and to lay a framework, lay a foundation for a peaceful discussion so that there can be reconciliation and a return to a more free and democratic life for the people of Burma,” she said.
U.N. officials said it was not clear whether the Burmese government would receive the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, who has twice visited before. Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win refused to comment yesterday.
But the special envoy was reported already on his way to engage Burmese military leaders on what is rapidly developing into a full-blown crisis.
In Burma’s former capital, Rangoon, now called Yangon, police fired tear gas into a phalanx of monks and thousands of demonstrators setting off for daily protests from their monastery. Some armed themselves with sticks taken from soldiers, according to eyewitness accounts quoted by news wires, and many of the demonstrators were bleeding from the clashes.
Similar clashes were reported in the upcountry urban hub of Mandalay, with deaths and arrests in both cities.
There are almost no foreign news services inside the deeply isolated country, although a well-connected network of expatriates and secret bloggers are keeping information flowing on what observers have begun to call the “Saffron Revolution.” Saffron is the color of the Buddhist monks’ outer garment.
About 100 Buddhist monks were arrested when security forces stormed a monastery in eastern Rangoon overnight, witnesses told Agence France-Presse.
Associated Press reported that Burmese security forces opened fire on Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators for the first time yesterday, killing at least one man and wounding others in chaotic confrontations across the city.
Clouds of tear gas and smoke from fires hung over streets, and defiant protesters and even bystanders pelted police with bottles and rocks in some places. Others helped monks escape arrest by bundling them into taxis and other vehicles and shouting “Go, go, go, run!”
The European Union and the United States, in a joint statement, called on the government to stop the violence and open discussions with political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 18 years. Her father, Aung San, was instrumental in freeing Burma from British colonial rule.
The EU and the United States also called on China, Indonesia and India — countries with significant trade and investment relations with Burma — to use their influence to reduce tensions between the government and the people.
Observers also asked Singapore, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to use its leverage with Burma, a member in tarnished standing, to improve human rights. However, the group has a tradition of non-interference in the domestic affairs of its members.
ASEAN has a meeting of foreign ministers scheduled for today and diplomats said that Burma is likely to be added to the agenda.
“We would like [ASEAN] to step up and this is something. We have been pressing for that even in advance of the latest crackdown,” Kristin Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, told The Washington Times yesterday.
The United States, which has already imposed stiff military, economic and diplomatic sanctions on Burma, cannot do much unilaterally to ratchet up the pressure.
The EU said yesterday that it is considering sanctions.
At the United Nations yesterday, Mr. Ban called for restraint, a position he presumably presented to Burmese officials during a half-hour “tete-a-tete” in his office. No information about the meeting was released.
Mr. Gambari, a seasoned political adviser who some say is too diplomatic for a mission like Burma, told The Washington Times that he is “optimistic” that the government would allow him to enter the country, but as of last night had not received confirmation.
Security Council members agreed yesterday that the situation is intolerable, but Russia was unwilling to commit a domestic problem to the body’s agenda.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya yesterday said his government had already spoken to Burmese officials.
“We have passed on word that they should not do anything that will make the situation more complicated,” he said after the council meeting yesterday. “We must restore stability.”
Indonesia, a council member with key trade relations, also said it had urged caution upon the Burmese regime.
“We are calling on the Myanmar authorities to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any actions that can exacerbate this situation,” said Indonesia’s ambassador to the United Nations, R.M. Marty Natalegawa. “We support the U.N. secretary-general’s efforts in Myanmar,” he said.