Yangon, Oct 1: UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was today waiting to see Myanmar junta chief Than Shwe in pursuit of his mission to end a bloody crackdown against 45 years of military rule, diplomats said.
Theories varied widely on why Gambari, dispatched after the junta sent in the troops to end mass protests last week, had not met Than Shwe despite having talks with detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Than Shwe, 74 and frequently rumoured to be in poor health, may be sick, playing hard to get, or even demonstrating his contempt for international opinion, diplomats said.
''We were all caught by surprise,'' one said after Gambari left the junta's new capital of Naypyidaw, 240 miles (385 km) north of Yangon, on Sunday without meeting Than Shwe, whose government rarely heeds pressure from the outside.
Gambari then flew to Yangon to see Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under some form of detention, before returning to Naypyidaw, a half-finished capital city carved out of the jungle.
British ambassador to Myanmar Mark Canning said China was pushing hard for Gambari's mission to be as long and as far-reaching as possible, and the fact he had gone back Naypyidaw might be the seed of some sort of shuttle diplomacy.
''There's been an evolution in his programme. The initial pitch was minimalist. It's got a bit better, and we want to see it get better still,'' Canning told the sources.
''We want to see a genuine shuttling around start, and we want to see the establishment of some sort of mechanism which allows the two parties to get together on an on-going basis.
Determined to meet Junta Chief
The United Nations made clear on Sunday Gambari did not plan to leave Myanmar, where the junta has flooded major cities with soldiers and police and barricaded off central Yangon where mass protestes were held, without seeing Than Shwe.
''He looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, before the conclusion of his mission,'' a U.N. statement said.
Diplomats said Gambari met Suu Kyi for more than an hour at a Yangon government guest house near the lakeside villa where she is confined without a telephone and requires official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.
Earlier, in Naypyidaw, Gambari held talks with acting Prime Minister Thein Sein, who ranks fourth in the junta hierarchy, Culture Minister Khin Aung Nyint and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan.