Myanmar Leaders Willing to Meet with Opposition

Senior Gen. Than Shwe, leader of Myanmar's military junta, says he is willing to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader who has been under house arrest for 12 years. Before he does, however, Suu Kyi must agree to several conditions.

Even still, Michael Sullivan tells Alex Chadwick that there is no guarantee the reclusive leader will stop the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Sullivan, who is on the Myanmar-Thai border, says there have been few refugees fleeing the troubled country. This is likely due, in part, to efforts by the Myanmar military to stop pictures and information about the crackdown from getting out. The Myanmar government has instituted a media blackout and cut off access to the Internet.

Monique Skidmore, author of several books on Burma, says the blackout has turned some in Myanmar into citizen journalists, who are trying to show the world what is happening in their country.

Skidmore talks to Alex Cohen about the situation in Myanmar and the history of its military junta.

Myanmar's Junta Leader to Meet Aun San Suu Kyi

Myanmar students hold a flower basket during a ceremony for slain Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai i

Myanmar students hold a flower basket during a memorial ceremony for slain Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai at the Japanese embassy in Bangkok on Thursday. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images
Myanmar students hold a flower basket during a ceremony for slain Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai

Myanmar students hold a flower basket during a memorial ceremony for slain Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai at the Japanese embassy in Bangkok on Thursday.

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

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The head of Myanmar's military junta told a U.N. envoy this week that he will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state-run media reported Thursday, just days after a bloody crackdown on anti-government dissent.

According to the report, the meeting with Senior Gen. Than Shwe would be held with "certain preconditions." The New Light of Myanmar newspaper also reported that 2,093 people had been arrested in a roundup of anti-government suspects. It said 692 were subsequently released.

Quiet prevailed on the streets of the country's largest city that was a focus of last week' unprecedented street protests led by Buddhist monks, where soldiers maintained a visible presence. About 200 riot police were posted near the lakeside home of Suu Kyi, with another two dozen inside her compound and two patrol boats watching from the water.

With Internet access to the outside world blocked, state-controlled newspapers churned out the propaganda-filled pages. Critics from the international community and foreign media were dismissed as "liars attempting to destroy the nation" - one of many bold-faced slogans covering The New Light of Myanmar newspaper's back page Thursday.

State-run newspapers made no mention of Buddhist monks being detained or of soldiers dragging people from their homes in nighttime raids.

Instead, coverage was devoted to pro-government rallies that have been held in stadiums around the country in recent days, such as one in the southeastern town of Myiek that New Light of Myanmar said was attended by 36,000 people.

Critics say the rallies are shams, filled with people ordered to attend by authorities.

Anti-junta demonstrations broke out in mid-August over a fuel price increase, then grew when monks took the lead last month. But the military crushed the protests with gunfire, tear gas and clubs starting on Sept. 26. 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 body of a Japanese journalist killed in the crackdown was brought back to Japan on Thursday. Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Tokyo was preparing to suspend aid to Myanmar in response.

A foreign aid worker said his staff told him that soldiers are continuing to raid homes at night to arrest people who took part in the demonstrations. Neighbors are alerting each other if they see troops coming, he said.

Among those detained in recent days was a U.N. Development Program employee, Myint Nwe Moe, and her husband, brother-in-law and driver, the U.N. agency said. Three other U.N. staffers were detained and subsequently released, said Charles Petrie, the U.N. humanitarian chief in Myanmar.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday in New York that his special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, had delivered "the strongest possible message" to country's military leaders about their bloody crackdown on democracy activists, but added that he could not call his four-day trip a success.

Gambari met with Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi twice and with the Than Shwe and his deputies before leaving the country Tuesday.

China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and a close ally of Myanmar, praised the meeting between Than Shwe and Gambari, and appealed to all parties in the country to remain calm and resume stability "as soon as possible."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Beijing has "made its own efforts to support Ban and his Myanmar special envoy's negotiations." It did not elaborate.

Thousands of bloggers from at least 45 nations joined a cyberspace protest of the junta Thursday by posting "Free Burma" banners on their pages, according to the drive's Web site.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power after snuffing out a 1988 pro-democracy movement against the previous military dictatorship, killing at least 3,000 people in process.

The generals called elections in 1990 but refused to give up power when Suu Kyi's party won. The opposition leader has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press



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