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UN Envoy Urges Burmese Government to Stop Political Arrests

15 October 2007

The United Nations' top envoy to Burma is urging the military government to stop arresting pro-democracy activists, and release all political detainees. He is in Thailand at the start of a regional tour to build support for political reconciliation in Burma. VOA's Kate Woodsome reports from Hong Kong.

U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari told reporters in Bangkok Monday that Burma's recent arrest and intimidation of opposition activists is "extremely disturbing."

Rights groups say Burmese authorities detained at least four leading activists in recent days.

Among them is Htay Kywe, leader of the country's most defiant dissident organization - the 88 Generation Students. Burmese exiles say his arrest is a major blow to the democracy movement.

"By arresting them, [it] would instill more terror among the activist groups who are still willing to carry out activities to defy the military junta," said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Thai-based National Council of the Union of Burma.

The Burmese authorities have arrested thousands of monks and activists since they crushed mass anti-government demonstrations last month.

Gambari met with top Thai officials Monday. He heads next to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan, to lobby the region for help in dealing with the military government. He then plans to visit Burma.

Dr. Sean Turnell of the Burma Economic Watch at Australia's Macquarie University doubts Gambari will be very successful.

"I think that the powerful players of the U.N. - the one that will determine whether any sort of strong U.N. action can take place or not - are quite concerned to ensure that such action doesn't take place," he said.

China gets valuable natural resources from neighboring Burma, and has vetoed efforts at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Burma's military leaders.

Turnell says Gambari could generate support among some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which also includes Burma.

ASEAN officials have uncharacteristically spoken out against Burma's leaders since the crackdown, in a hint of change to ASEAN's policy of non-interference.

Turnell says even if Gambari does not achieve concrete results, his trip is crucial because it will keep international attention on Burma.

The U.N. sent Gambari to Burma immediately after the crackdown. He met with Senior General Than Shwe and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage new dialogue.

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