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UN Envoy Meets With Burma's Military Leader, Democracy Leader Suu Kyi

02 October 2007

The U.N. special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has met with Burmese military leader Senior General Than Shwe, and again visited democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi again after that. Meanwhile, observers in Rangoon say the number of victims of last week's military crackdown is much higher than reported and that many monasteries appear to have been emptied of monks. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

After days of stalling, the head of Burma's military ruling council, General Than Shwe, finally agreed to meet with the U.N.'s special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, in the new capital Naypyitaw.

Gambari then returned to Rangoon and met with detained democracy leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for the second time. No details were released.

Aside from the diplomacy, the country's largest city of Rangoon was quiet, after the military opened fire on protesters last week killing perhaps dozens of students, monks, and civilians.

The charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Shari Villarosa, is the highest-ranking American diplomat in Burma. She says this does not mean life is normal for the Burmese.

"It has been quiet this week, yesterday and today. Traffic is moving as normal. But again, it is hardly returned to normal. People are terrified. They do not want to be shot, so they are staying off the streets. They are unhappy. They were unhappy for a long time, now they are unhappy and angry," said Villarosa.

She added that her staff has visited several monasteries.

"We visited about 10 to 15 [monasteries]. We saw some that were empty and we saw some that we could not enter because they were surrounded by military," added Villarosa.

The empty monasteries have caused alarm among rights groups who say many monks may have been killed and hundreds more may have been arrested.

The protests began in August after the military junta raised fuel prices by nearly 500 percent. The protests led by the country's revered Buddhist monks turned into mass demonstrations against 45 years of brutal military rule.

The authorities retaliated by arresting, beating, shooting, and killing demonstrators. Exact casualty and arrest figures are unknown. Human rights and opposition groups say the number could be far higher than the 10 deaths the government has acknowledged.

Foreign journalists are not allowed in the country. Most of the information coming out of Burma has been from the Burmese who have sent information, photos, and videos over the Internet, which the government has shut down since last Friday.

Governments around the world have expressed revulsion over the violent crackdown. Australia rejected Burma's nominee as ambassador to the country because he is a general, and the European Union said any free-trade agreement with Southeast Asia would exclude Burma.

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