U.N. peace envoy meets detained leader

YANGON Sun Sep 30, 2007 1:16pm EDT

1 of 7. Myanmar workers in Thailand hold placards and shout slogans against the military junta during a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, September 30, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

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YANGON (Reuters) - U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari had talks on Sunday with Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and several members of the military government to discuss ending a crackdown on protests against military rule.

However, there was no word on when Gambari might meet the general who heads the junta, Than Shwe, who is based in the new capital Naypyidaw, 240 miles north of Yangon, and whose government rarely heeds pressure from outside.

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

Diplomats said Gambari met Suu Kyi for more than an hour at a Yangon government guest house near the lakeside villa where she is confined without a telephone and requires official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.

They met after Gambari flew back from Naypyidaw where he had talks with acting Prime Minister Thein Sein, Culture Minister Khin Aung Nyint and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, they said.

It was not known if he had made any progress towards ending the crackdown on the biggest anti-junta protests for nearly 20 years, in which hundreds of Buddhist monks were held, central Yangon was sealed off and troops were deployed on the streets.

There were no crowds visible on Sunday in the city centre, where security forces snuffed out protests by sealing off two pagodas at their heart and keeping away the monks who led them.

Troops and police searched bags and people for cameras and the Internet remained off line.

HUNDREDS ARRESTED

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said at least 700 monks and 500 other people had been arrested throughout the country.

The protests began with small marches against fuel price rises in mid-August and intensified when soldiers fired over the heads of protesting monks, causing monasteries to mobilize.

The crackdown, in which soldiers shot into crowds, raided monasteries and took monks away in trucks, provoked an outraged response from governments around the world.

The heavy-handed suppression even prompted criticism from China, the closest the junta has to an ally, and condemnation from the Association of South East Asian Nation, of which Myanmar is a member.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict appealed for a peaceful solution to the "extremely serious" events in Myanmar and expressed his solidarity with the country's poor during their "painful trial".

In Singapore, about 1,500 Myanmar citizens thronged to a temple for a special prayer session calling for a peaceful end to the crackdown.

The generals habitually ignore outside pressure, but bowed to the international outcry to admit Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, at short notice.

The government has acknowledged that 10 people were killed on Wednesday, the first day of the crackdown, although Western governments say the real toll is almost certainly higher.

A Japanese video journalist was shot dead when troops opened fire on a crowd of chanting protesters.

JAPANESE ENVOY

A Japanese envoy arrived on Sunday to ensure a full investigation into the death of Kenji Nagai, 50.

Footage of his death appeared to show a soldier shooting him at point-blank range as security forces cleared protesters from central Yangon.

In Tokyo, 20 Myanmar nationals living in Japan went on a hunger strike to demand an end to the crackdown.

Myanmar's state-run media have proclaimed the restoration of peace and stability after security forces handled the protests "with care, using the least possible force".

Suu Kyi's meeting with Gambari was a rare excursion outside her home, but the second in little more than a week.

Since she was last detained in May 2003, her fellow countrymen have seen her just once -- when she appeared at the gates of her lakeside villa to pay respects to a monk allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.

Riot police stood between the monks and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the generals.

(Additional reporting by Bangkok bureau and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo)

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