U.N. Sends Envoy to Myanmar

U.N. Security Council members aren't in agreement on what role to play in Myanmar. But they back a decision to send a U.N. envoy to urge military rulers to exercise restraint in dealing with mass protests led by Buddhist monks.

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The scenes of thousands of saffron-robed monks and nuns on the streets, and news of a crackdown prompted members of the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting yesterday. Council members don't agree on much when it comes to the internal strife in Myanmar, formerly Burma, before the military regime changed the name. But the Security Council did agree with the Secretary General's decision to send his envoy to urge Myanmar's military rulers to exercise restraint.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Knowing that China and Russia had vetoed previous efforts to get the Security Council to take action on Myanmar, U.S. diplomats said it was a success just to get the council together in an emergency session to talk about the crackdown on protesting monks.

In the end, the divided council came out with a fairly bland statement read out by the current council president, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert.

Ambassador JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (President, U.N. Security Council): They welcome the decision by the secretary general to urgently dispatch his special envoy to the region and underline the importance that Mr. Gambari be received by the authorities on Myanmar as soon as possible.

KELEMEN: As they spoke, Ibrahim Gambari still didn't have permission to visit. U.S. and British diplomats added a sense of urgency. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Gambari should be let in soon as reports are already coming in about protesters being killed, and Buddhist monks arrested and beaten.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): It's not good for Mr. Gambari's visit to be delayed for the situation to continue to escalate, to pose an increasing threat to regional peace and stability. It wouldn't be good for Mr. Gambari to go and visit gravesites after many more Burmese have been killed.

KELEMEN: President Bush, this week, announced tighter U.S. sanctions on Myanmar in a speech calling on the U.N. to do more to protect human rights.

British Ambassador John Sawers says he expects the violence unfolding in Myanmar will continue to be a dominant theme of the U.N. General Assembly over the next few days.

Ambassador JOHN SAWERS (Britain Ambassador to the United Nations): Professor Gambari spoke of a fork in the road for the Burmese authorities whether they go backwards - it's the period of violence and repression - or whether they can find a way forward to negotiate a new future for their country through national reconciliation.

KELEMEN: But while China and Russia went along with the idea of sending the secretary general's envoy back to try to facilitate political negotiations, Russia's ambassador tried to change the topic to his country's latest diplomatic showdown with the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

And China's Ambassador Wang Guangya made clear he doesn't support the idea of punishing Myanmar's rulers with sanctions.

Ambassador WANG GUANGYA (China Ambassador to the United Nations): We believe that the sanctions is not helpful for the situation down there.

KELEMEN: And he still doesn't think the issue belongs in the Security Council.

Ambassador GUANGYA: As far as China see it and also many other members see it, that because the situation there has some problems. But these problems, now at this stage, does not constitute a threat to international and regional peace and stability.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has been trying to urge China and others with influence in Myanmar to use it, and prevent the crisis from escalating.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, The United Nations.

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