UN envoy urges ASEAN for democracy in Myanmar

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Kuala Lumpur, Oct 17: The United Nations urged Southeast Asian nations today to do more to push military-ruled Myanmar toward democracy after its bloodiest crackdown on pro-democracy activists in almost 20 years.

The UN special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, said during a diplomatic tour of the region that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) should go beyond its recent condemnation of the crackdown by its member state.

''They have made very strong statements about the events,'' Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, told reporters after talks with Malaysia's prime minister in Putrajaya, his second stop on a mission to galvanise the region into action.

But he added: ''We want to go a step further. We don't want the secretary-general and myself to left alone.'' Officially, 10 people were killed when soldiers moved in to end last month's monk-led demonstrations against 45 years of military rule in the former Burma, but opposition sources and diplomats say the toll is likely to be much higher.

The protests began as small demonstrations against fuel-price hikes then snowballed. Three weeks later, arrests are still going on in nightly raids and state-run media have said opposition to the generals' ''seven-step path to democracy'', which critics say would still leave them in charge, would not be tolerated.

So far, the United Nations has expressed outrage at the crackdown, dispatching Gambari to meet the country's rulers and also opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who has been in detention for many years.

In recent days, Japan has cut aid to Myanmar, the European Union has stiffened its sanctions against the country and US President George W Bush has threatened to follow suit.

ASEAN, which buys roughly half of the impoverished country's exports and provides a slightly bigger share of its imports, has issued a statement calling for restraint and expressing its ''revulsion'' at the junta's heavy-handedness.

''A sustained engagement along the lines that we have been saying would be very welcome. What form this would take, we have to leave it to ASEAN,'' Gambari said, when asked exactly what he wanted the regional grouping to do.


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