UN rights envoy fears severe repression in Myanmar

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GENEVA, Sep 25 (Reuters) The United Nations human rights investigator for Myanmar said today he feared a ''very severe repression'' by the military junta and called on major powers to mediate in the southeast Asian country.

Myanmar is witnessing the biggest anti-government protests in 20 years and the junta poured troops and police armed with rifles into central Yangon today.

''A very severe repression is very close to happening,'' Paulo Sergio Pinheiro told Reuters in a telephone interview. ''It would be very important to try to mediate and try to convince the government that it can't proceed down this path.'' He singled out China as a regional power which would play a ''positive role'' to defuse the crisis and called for ''quiet diplomacy'' by countries including the United States.

''It is an emergency,'' he said.

President George W Bush announced new US sanctions today against the military rulers of Myanmar. Pinheiro declined to comment on the US sanctions or their chances of persuading the junta to change course.

Pinheiro, a Brazilian law professor, has served as UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar since 2000.

''My perception after following the mindset of the military for the last seven years is I don't think they can continue to tolerate protests,'' he said.

''But it would be a mistake to think about regime change, it would be wrong to apply the scenarios of a Velvet Revolution or Orange Revolution'', he said, referring to mass protests that brought down governments in former Czechoslovakia and Ukraine.

In 1988, up to 3,000 people are thought to have been killed during a crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests against military rule in the former Burma.

Pinheiro met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi six times between 2000 and 2003 but has been refused visas since. Her NLD won a sweeping election victory in 1990, only to be denied power by the junta.

Pinheiro expressed disappointment that the UN Human Rights Council had failed so far to take up the situation in Myanmar during its three-week session which ends on Friday.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called today for authorities in Myanmar to allow anti-junta protesters to express their grievances peacefully.

REUTERS AE PM2133

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