Myanmar welcomes UN envoy with government rallies

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YANGON, Nov 4 (Reuters) Myanmar's military junta greeted visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari with state-sponsored rallies calling for ''respect'' from the United Nations as he tried to coax the generals into reforms, official media reported today.

''We Respect the UN, We Respect Gambari, Respect Myanmar,'' state television and newspapers quoted a slogan at one rally, one of many which people say they are forced to attend, held in the Mandalay area.

Gambari returned to army-ruled Myanmar yesterday, a row over the junta's move to kick out the UN's top resident diplomat overshadowing his mission to promote ''dialogue and national reconciliation''.

He emphasised immediately UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's backing of country chief Charles Petrie, told by the regime he was no longer welcome after highlighting a deepening economic crisis that fuelled mass protests crushed by the army.

''Mr Gambari conveyed the Secretary-General's support for the Country Team and the Resident Coordinator and the important work they continue to do to improve the socioeconomic and humanitarian situation,'' the UN office in Yangon said in a statement.

But government mouthpieces attacked the Petrie statement in today's editorials as ''groundless''.

''The statement of the UN Country Team in Myanmar absolutely ignores Myanmar's prevailing conditions, and it is, indeed, merely a groundless one,'' English-language daily the New Light of Myanmar said.

It was not clear how long Gambari, who flew to the jungle capital Naypyidaw shortly after landing in Yangon yesterday, would stay in Myanmar and who he would be allowed to meet by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

Nor was there any word on whether he was making progress in persuading the generals to talk to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 12 of the last 18 years.

''No UN officials accompanied Mr. Gambari so we are completely in the dark,'' a Yangon-based UN official told Reuters today.

But the UN statement yesterday said he expected to meet ''as many interlocutors as possible'' and would ''stay in Myanmar as long as necessary to accomplish his mission''.

However, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party, said he had not been contacted by Myanmar Foreign Ministry officials who set Gambari's schedule whether NLD leaders could meet him.

Gambari's mission has been complicated by the generals' decision not to renew Petrie's credentials.

Singapore said it was disappointed by the move against Petrie, who was summoned to Naypyidaw on Friday for an official dressing down for a statement he released on the October 24 United Nations Day, which Myanmar said had tarnished its image.

The United States condemned Petrie's apparent expulsion for linking Myanmar's dire economic straits to the protests which triggered a crackdown in which official media say 10 people were killed. Diplomats say many more probably died.

REUTERS SYU BD1330

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