UN peace envoy waits to see Myanmar junta supremo

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YANGON, Oct 1 (Reuters) UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was waiting to see Myanmar's top general on Monday to try to persuade the military junta to ease its nationwide crackdown on the biggest anti-government protests in 20 years, diplomats said.

Theories varied widely as to why Gambari, dispatched after troops were sent in to end more than a week of mass protests against decades of military rule, had not met Than Shwe despite an hour of talks with detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The 74-year-old Senior General, frequently rumoured to be in poor health, may be sick, playing hard to get, or even Demonstrating contempt for international concern, diplomats said.

''We were all caught by surprise,'' one said after Gambari on Sunday left the junta's new capital of Naypyidaw, 240 miles (385 km) north of Yangon, without meeting Than Shwe, the reclusive leader of one of the world's most isolated regimes.

Gambari 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 new capital carved out of the jungle.

British ambassador to Myanmar Mark Canning said China was pushing for Gambari's mission to be as long and as far-reaching as possible, and his return to Naypyidaw has fuelled hopes 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 Reuters.

''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 LEADER The United Nations made clear Yesterday that Gambari did not plan to leave without seeing Than Shwe, whose troops are stationed on street corners across Yangon, making it impossible even for small crowds of demonstators to assemble.

''He looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, before the conclusion of his mission,'' a UN statement said.

In a sign the junta was confident it has squeezed the life out of the uprising, the biggest challenge to its authority in 20 years, barbed-wire barricades were removed from the Shewdagon Pagoda, the rallying point for monks leading the marches.


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