Myanmar opposition dismisses junta offer to talk

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YANGON, Oct 5 (Reuters) Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party dismissed the Myanmar junta's offer of talks as unreal today, while China said the ruthless suppression of pro-democracy protests did not require international action.

Senior General Than Shwe, who outraged the world by sending in soldiers to crush peaceful monk-led demonstrations, was asking Suu Kyi to abandon the campaign for democracy that has kept her in detention for 12 of the last 18 years, a spokesman said.

''They are asking her to confess to offences that she has not committed,'' said Nyan Win, spokesman for the Nobel peace laureate's National League for Democracy (NLD), whose landslide election victory in 1990 was ignored by the generals.

Than Shwe, head of the latest junta in 45 unbroken years of military rule of the former Burma, set out his conditions for direct talks at a meeting with special UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Tuesday, state-run television said.

It announced the terms on the eve of Gambari's report on his mission to the UN Security Council, saying Suu Kyi must abandon ''confrontation'', give up ''obstructive measures'' and support for sanctions and ''utter devastation'', a phrase it did not explain.

Nyan Win demanded ''The Lady'', as Suu Kyi is known in Myanmar, be allowed to respond in public.

That is unlikely. The only time Suu Kyi has been seen in public since she was last detained in May 2003 was during one monk-led demonstration when protesters were inexplicably allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.

She appeared for 15 minutes at the gate of the home to which she is confined without a telephone and requiring official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.

The barricades were reinforced afterwards and not opened again.

There have been no demonstrations in Yangon since a small one on Sunday and security on the unusually quiet streets remains heavy with people cowed by continuing arrests.

The United States called on the junta to talk to Suu Kyi without conditions and said US charge d'affaires Shari Villarosa would visit the new capital, Naypyidaw, to urge them to begin a ''meaningful dialogue'' with opposition groups.

An embassy official in Yangon dismissed reports Villarosa would meet Than Shwe and a diplomatic source said she was to see Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, who is not a policymaker.

GAMBARI REPORT The UN Security Council dispatched Gambari to Myanmar, where he had to wait two days to see Than Shwe, in hopes of ending a crackdown involving soldiers shooting into crowds and mass arrests, and getting talks with Suu Kyi started.

Gambari was to present his report to the council today, but veto-wielding China said it opposed international action.

''There are problems there in Myanmar, but these problems still, we believe, are basically internal,'' China's UN Ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters.

''No international-imposed solution can help the situation,'' Wang said. ''We want the government there to handle this issue.'' To many in Yangon and other cities who demonstrated en masse or applauded from the sidewalk, the government is the issue in the resource-rich country of increasingly impoverished people.

But with China, the closest thing the junta has to an ally, blocking action at the United Nations, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- one of the few international groupings of which Myanmar is a member -- unwilling to change its policy, experts say little is likely to happen.

Singapore, its current chairman, said ASEAN would continue its policy of engagement with Myanmar, one which has shown no more signs of influencing the generals than Western sanctions, to try to ''help it move forward''.

''We have to be mindful of the realities,'' Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his country's Straits Times newspaper.

''Sanctions against a regime that is ready to isolate itself are more likely to be counter-productive than effective.'' Singapore is a leading investor in Myanmar, one of the world's most isolated countries.

Activists hope to crank up the pressure on governments on Saturday with a ''Global Day of Action'' involving marches and rallies in 41 cities across Asia, Europe and North America.

The junta says all is back to normal after ''the least possible force'' was used to end demonstrations which began with small marches against huge fuel price rises in August and escalated after troops fired over the heads of protesting monks.

It says 10 people were killed in the crackdown on the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.

Yangon's five million people appear to have been intimidated by middle-of-the-night arrests, residents and Western diplomats say.

State televison said yesterday about 1,400 people were still being detained after the release of 692 of the 2,093 people arrested since the crackdown began last week.

A relative of three women released said detainees were being divided into four categories: passers-by, those who watched, those who clapped and those who joined in.

''They're looking for the people who led the demonstrations. The people clapping will only get a minimal punishment -- maybe two to five years,'' said Win Min, who fled to Thailand in 1988 as the army crushed an uprising at the cost of around 3,000 lives.

Leaders could be looking at up to 20 years behind bars, he said.

Reuters SYU DB1348

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