France urges China, ASEAN to push Myanmar

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BANGKOK, Oct 29 (Reuters) France called on China and Southeast Asia today to put more pressure on Myanmar's ruling junta to start proper talks about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

''I have come to South East Asia to tell Burma's neighbours that no progress can be made in Burma without their intervention and assistance,'' French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wrote in editorials in several regional newspapers.

''The United Nations cannot achieve reconciliation on its own. The capacity of China and ASEAN countries to engage in dialogue with the Burmese junta is irreplaceable,'' he said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

Kouchner is due in Bangkok tomorrow.

Despite rare expressions of discomfort at last month's crackdown, in which at least 10 people were killed, China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) refuse to contemplate sanctions, saying words are a more effective tool.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited a month ago after the biggest anti-junta protests in two decades were crushed ruthlessly, is due to return to Myanmar in the first week of November.

His first trip to the generals' new jungle capital resulted in the appointment of retired general Aung Kyi as a go-between for Suu Kyi and Senior General Than Shwe, who is widely known to loathe the 62-year-old Nobel laureate.

Aung Kyi held a 75-minute meeting with Suu Kyi last week, although it is not known what the pair discussed.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a 1990 election by a landslide, only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled since a 1962 coup. She has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention. Than Shwe has offered talks with Suu Kyi, although some of the conditions attached -- her abandonment of support for sanctions and ''utter devastation'' being among them -- lead many to doubt his sincerity.

In two sops to the unprecedented international anger at the crackdown, the generals have allowed Gambari to make a return visit slightly earlier than first planned.

They have also agreed to admit UN human rights specialist Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who has not been allowed in since 2003.

Having originally intended to visit in early November, Pinheiro has deferred his mission by a week or so to prevent a timetable clash with Gambari, UN sources said.

However, he still plans to go before the annual meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders, to be held this year in Singapore on November 19.

REUTERS SYU KP1026

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