UN asks SE Asia for action, not words, on Myanmar

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 (Reuters) The United Nations asked Southeast Asia today for action rather than just tough words to push military-ruled Myanmar towards democracy after its bloodiest crackdown in almost 20 years.

''We appreciated very much the very strong statements coming out of ASEAN,'' special envoy Ibrahim Gambari said in Malaysia, a key player in the Association of South East Asian Nations, which expressed unprecedented ''revulsion'' at the junta's behaviour.

''But now is the time to work together so that the good offices role of the secretary-general can deliver concrete results,'' he told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Malaysia is the second leg of Gambari's regional tour to drum up support for a united front against the generals in Asia, where governments are loathe to impose sanctions because of trade and investment ties and a lust for Myanmar's huge energy reserves.

Official media say 10 people were killed when soldiers crushed last month's monk-led demonstrations against 45 years of military rule, but Western governments say the toll is likely to be much higher.

The crackdown has ended the protests, which started against shock fuel price rises in mid-August, but three weeks later the raids and round-ups are continuing despite a plea from Gambari in Bangkok on Monday for them to end ''at once''.

Today, the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's main mouthpiece, said 2,459 people of 2,927 detained across the country had been released -- leaving 468 in custody, a figure human rights and exile groups suspect is probably too low.

''Some are still called in for questioning,'' the paper said, suggesting the junta is paying no attention to the international clamour for restraint.

ON THE RUN In a rare sop to international concern, Senior General Than Shwe has agreed to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he is widely known to loathe.

However, his preconditions -- that the 62-year-old Nobel laureate abandon ''confrontation'' and support for sanctions and ''utter devastation'' -- cast doubts on the sincerity of his offer.

But dissidents on the run inside the former Burma called on China and Russia to allow a blanket UN Security Council arms and investment ban to try to force the junta towards democratic reform.

Moscow and Beijing are unlikely to heed the cry.

In a letter written from hiding to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, three members of the ''88 Generation Students Group'' said the generals were duping the UN into thinking they were serious about compromising with Suu Kyi.

''This may be the last letter we send to you before our own arrest and torture and we send it with the utmost urgency,'' the trio -- Tun Myint Aung, Nilar Thein and Soe Htun -- wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters in Bangkok.

The '88 group were student activists who led a major anti-junta uprising in 1988 that was eventually crushed by the army with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives. They were also behind the initial fuel price protests in mid-August.

Nearly all the leading lights in the group, most of whom spent years behind bars in the 1990s, were the first to be arrested in the latest crackdown.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi's opposition party that won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the army, says more than 200 of its members have been detained.

It is not known how many, if any, have been released. Yesterday, five NLD members alleged to have been involved in protests in the northwestern state of Rakhine were jailed for up to 7-{ years after closed trials, relatives said.

One of them was an 85-year-old man relatives said was not even in town when the protests were staged.

Buddhist monks freed after more than a week of interrogation have told Reuters of animal-like conditions in makeshift detention centres without toilets or drinking water. Monks were also kicked and beaten during questioning, they said.

Reuters PD GC1750

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