September 28, 2007 / 10:05 PM / 12 years ago

Singapore says hope in Myanmar rests on UN envoy

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - If a senior U.N. envoy fails to convince Myanmar’s ruling junta to begin reconciliation talks, unrest in the Asian nation "could become quite dreadful," Singapore’s foreign minister said on Friday.

The junta, facing a wave of national protests against its rule, has agreed to a visit by Ibrahim Gambari, a U.N. undersecretary-general. The U.N. Security Council has endorsed the visit, expected to begin on Saturday, in hopes Gambari can convince the junta to start a dialogue with the opposition.

Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yong-Boon Yeo said he believed the government would "be restrained in what it does" during the visit of Gambari, a Nigerian professor.

"But then the demonstrators may come out in full force. Then there could be heightened tension as a result," Yeo told reporters after meeting British Foreign Minister David Miliband.

"If he fails, then the situation can become quite dreadful," Yeo said. "He’s the best hope we have. He is trusted on both sides."

Myanmar’s military government has raided Buddhist monasteries as it seeks to crush the protests. Facing international condemnation, the government appears to have cut off public access to the Internet, through which much of the news about the crackdown reached the rest of the world.

Miliband said the first step was that Gambari should "reach the highest level of the regime and to see the opposition." He should then "create a political process that offers a viable, sustainable and stable future for Burma," Miliband said.

Both Yeo and Miliband said Gambari needed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader held under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years after her party’s decisive election victory in 1990.

But Yeo said Gambari should not impose any conditions, such as demanding her immediate release. "The important thing is to begin talking," he said.

Asked about China, Yeo said Beijing was quietly trying to exert influence. "China knows that Myanmar is an important neighbor. It doesn’t want a problem on its doorstep. So I believe China is playing a helpful role, mostly behind the scenes," he said.

Beijing has prevented any U.N. Security Council action on Myanmar, believing the situation did not threaten international peace and security, the 15-member body’s main mandate.

Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters after council consultations on Wednesday, Myanmar authorities had to "achieve stability" and "national reconciliation."

Yeo is current chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Members of the regional grouping voiced "revulsion" on Thursday at the killings in Yangon, and sternly demanded that fellow member Myanmar stop using violence against demonstrators.

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