UN envoy criticises continued Burma crackdown

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The Independent Online

The UN's special envoy to Burma has condemned the military regime over the continued crackdown on democracy activists, saying the actions were not in keeping with the spirit of his recent meeting with the country's leaders.

On a tour of Burma's regional neighbours, Ibrahim Gambari said reports of the arrests were "extremely disturbing". He added: "It runs counter to the spirit of mutual engagement between the UN and Myanmar."

Mr Gambari's criticism of the regime came as EU foreign ministers agreed to strengthen sanctions on Burma, including an export ban on equipment to sectors involving timber, metals, minerals, semi-precious and precious stones.

But they are not enforcing these economic measures immediately, leaving the generals with an apparent window to avert their implementation and time for Mr Gambari's mediation to take effect.

"He [Mr Gambari] is the only one who has a chance for leverage at the moment," the EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Walder said.

But, outwardly at least, the Burmese regime is showing little indication of altering its hardline stance. Over the weekend it rounded up four more democracy activists including three of the last handful of members of the 88 Students Generation group still at liberty. Those three, Ko Htay Kywe, Ma Mi Mi and Ko Aung, have joined more than a dozen other members of the group who were detained in August after a series of protests.

Meeting in Luxembourg, the EU's foreign ministers said they might send a mission to Burma to call on the junta to take steps towards reconciliation with political opponents. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown – who was handed an international petition containing more than 760,000 signatures calling for action against the regime – said Britain is ready to help Burma if it took steps towards democracy.

Mr Gambari will visit China and India as part of his Asian tour and press them to help his diplomatic effort. The two countries are competing over Burma's gas and oil resources and many observers believe they alone could help lever some sort of action from the regime. So far, their efforts in that area appear to have been at best half-hearted.

Asked if Burma's neighbours should be doing more to help, Mr Gambari told reporters: "I believe so but we can all do better."